May 2008: Judge Susan Crawford, Military “Convening Authority” for Guantanamo

Judge Susan Crawford, the Convening Authority for GTMO Military Commissions (Feb. 2007 – Jan. 2010), ordered the war-crimes charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani dropped but did not state publicly that the harsh interrogations were the reason. In June 2005, Time magazine obtained 83 pages of Qahtani’s interrogation log and published excerpts that showed some of the extreme abuse. The report of a military investigation released the same year concluded that Qahtani’s interrogations were “degrading and abusive.”

July 2008: Scott McClellan, the President’s press secretary issued a retraction admitting that he could not “honestly deny” the Administration’s acceptance and use of torture techniques.

In Jan. 2009, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post interviewed Judge Crawford, who had served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense. As “convening authority” Judge Crawford was charged with deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial. She concluded that:

“the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition. We tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani… His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.”

“You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture, she said.

Crawford personally reviewed Qahtani’s interrogation records and other military documents and those records show that:

“For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators. Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.”

“Qahtani was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus. [He] was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation” and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks.”

“The interrogation was so intense that Qahtani had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and death.”

Crawford said: “I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe. But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.”

“It did shock me. I was upset by it. I was embarrassed by it. If we tolerate this and allow it, then how can we object when our servicemen and women, or others in foreign service, are captured and subjected to the same techniques? How can we complain? Where is our moral authority to complain? Well, we may have lost it.”

Susan Crawford, a lifelong Republican, was the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured. (Bob Woodward. Guantanamo Detainee Was TorturedThe Washington Post, Jan. 14, 2009)