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Guantanamo Bay Log Detailing Treatment, Interrogation of Prisoner Revealed

June 13, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: Mohammed al-Qahtani is believed by U.S. officials to be the so-called 20th hijacker, the one who was barred entry into the U.S. in August 2001 and kept from participating in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Four months later, al-Qahtani was captured in Afghanistan, and has been held at Guantanamo Bay ever since as detainee #063. Now, amid a growing controversy over the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, comes the release of a detailed internal log that describes part of the interrogation of Qahtani.

The log was obtained by Time magazine. One of its reporters, Adam Zagorin, joins me now. Welcome to you.

JEFFREY BROWN: First set the context so we can understand what this log gives. When was it made, who made it, and why?

ADAM ZAGORIN: The log begins on December — excuse me, Nov. 23, 2002. It comes in a sequence in the interrogation. The first interrogation of Qahtani was done by the FBI. That produced not a lot of information, or not enough to satisfy them.

The military took over. They began interrogating him using the army field manual, which is a set series of protocols that they use for an interrogation. When that did not produce enough results, on Dec. 2, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ok’d a harsher series of protocols for the interrogation, and so that’s what you have here.

The interrogation begins at one level and it’s ramped up on Dec. 2, and then it concludes on Jan. 11. And on Jan.12, Rumsfeld rescinded the harsher protocols and they have not to our knowledge been applied since at Guantanamo.

JEFFREY BROWN: This log, do we know who made it?

ADAM ZAGORIN: Yeah. The log was produced on laptops, not contemporaneously, but someone would write what had happened immediately after each sort of episode. Sometimes it’s hour by hour, sometimes it’s minute by minute, and it would be people who were either observing or participating in the interrogation, typically uniformed military personnel, although whether they’d be wearing the uniform at the time I don’t know.

JEFFREY BROWN: And it’s not a transcript to be clear. There are gaps.

ADAM ZAGORIN: Yeah, it’s not a transcript. It is a log. It records events. There’s not a — quotation marks around the various remarks that various parties to the interrogation make. And the other thing is that there is another, at least one other record of this entire session that no one has ever seen filled with more minute, classified details of the specific intelligence.

JEFFREY BROWN: Can you tell us how you obtained it?

ADAM ZAGORIN: No, I’m not able to do that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Can you tell us that you know that it is authentic?

ADAM ZAGORIN: Yes. Its authenticity was verified by Lawrence Dorita, the chief spokesman of the Pentagon, and by numerous or a number of other senior Pentagon officials. We discussed the log with them.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you said that this happened at a critical time when Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld approved some new methods to be used on certain detainees, including this one. What kind of methods are we talking about? What do the logs tell us?

ADAM ZAGORIN: What the logs show is that they would allow more stress and a number of other tactics that had not heretofore been used. For example, the length of the interrogation extends during a given day. The detainee — sleep deprivation had been used prior, but it was extended.

So on some occasions, he would be interrogated for 20 hours. There would be little breaks and so forth, but not sleep. This would be maintained. They would play music to him to keep him awake, for example — Christina Aguilera was one of the music that they played to keep him awake.

But they also would get him to stand up and sit down two or three times in sequence to just sort of animate himself. Or they would walk him and exercise him, just keeping him going, keeping him awake, keeping him under pressure.

JEFFREY BROWN: So it becomes a kind of the battle of wills that unfolds in this log, that you could see in the log.

ADAM ZAGORIN: Yeah. You can actually see that. Sometimes they’re arguing over big issues like religion. What does God want from al-Qahtani? Does God want — the interrogators ask him — “Does God want you to reveal to us the secrets of al-Qaida and bin Laden?”

Other times they argue about “Are you going to take a drink of water? And if you don’t, we’re not going to let you pray.” Much of the interrogation took place during Ramadan. So he apparently felt an obligation to pray at that time.

JEFFREY BROWN: There were some moments when things get quite tense. He’s made to bark like a dog at one point.

ADAM ZAGORIN: Yeah, there’s a lot of — more than tense moments, anger. There’s even violence. He lashes out at them. At one point, they’re giving him, involuntarily, fluids, intravenous fluids because he’s refusing liquids.

And so he actually bites the IV tube in half at one point. They restrain him. And you get a lot of conflict. He gets angry, he yells. At other times he cries. He cries repeatedly through the log.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of the tactics was to have a female interrogator with him?

ADAM ZAGORIN: Yeah. It’s not clear the extent to which she’s present in every scene because the interrogators, by the way, work in shifts. So he’s always on, but they work in shifts.

The female interrogator enters his personal space. It’s not clear what that means in every case, but he objects to it very, very strongly, and at one point, he actually threatens to commit suicide rather than have this woman violate his personal space, according to the log.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do the logs indicate whether any of this was successful? In other words, do we know what was obtained in terms of information from this man?

ADAM ZAGORIN: Well, we do to some extent. The logs cite very specifically quite a number of names of contacts that he gave up in the various locations that he was in.

But the logs do not specifically cite some of the items that the Pentagon has highlighted as being the most valuable intelligence that he produced. So we have that from the Pentagon, but we don’t have it directly from the logs.

JEFFREY BROWN: As you said in January 2003, these harsher methods were rescinded.

ADAM ZAGORIN: Correct.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do we know — and the logs at that time, I think, this is around the time the log is coming to an end.

ADAM ZAGORIN: That’s correct.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do we know what’s happened to al-Qahtani up to this point? He’s still being held.

ADAM ZAGORIN: He’s still being held. He’s not been charged with anything, and he has no legal counsel. As to what might happen to him going forward, I have no idea.

JEFFREY BROWN: And there are investigations ongoing into his treatment.

ADAM ZAGORIN: Yes, there are. The FBI — you’ll recall that it was the FBI who first interrogated him after they determined that he was the likely 20th hijacker. Various FBI agents informed their superiors that they observed various detainees, including Qahtani, being abused. That exchange from the FBI has been made public.

So there is an investigation in the Justice Department into the circumstances of all that, and there’s also a separate one by the Pentagon. And I should also point out that Mr. Qahtani has identified twenty or thirty others who he has said are al-Qaida or whatever.

And these statements of his have been used to prolong their detention. There is a lawyer who represents one of those whose detention has been prolonged who is challenging that on the basis that Mr. Qahtani’s statements are unreliable because they have been extracted under torture.

JEFFREY BROWN: Okay. Adam Zagorin of Time magazine, thank you.

ADAM ZAGORIN: Thank you.