Guantanamo Bay detainee: I make up stories
Newly released information suggests that harsh interrogation techniques could lead to false information.
Washington — Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, told U.S. military officials that he lied to the CIA after being abused, according to documents made public Monday, a claim that figures to intensify the debate over whether harsh interrogation techniques generated accurate information.
Mohammed made the assertion during hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was transferred in 2006 after having been held at secret CIA sites since his capture in 2003.
"I make up stories," Mohammed said, describing in broken English an interrogation probably administered by the CIA concerning the location of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. "Where is he? I don't know. Then, he torture me," Mohammed said of his interrogator. "Then I said, `Yes, he is in this area.'"
Mohammed also appeared to say that he had fingered individuals he did not know as being al-Qaida members in order to avoid abusive treatment. Although there was no way to corroborate his statements, Mohammed is one of the militants whom the CIA repeatedly subjected to the simulated-drowning technique known as waterboarding.
The newly released information could amplify calls for the Obama administration to make public more details about the abuse of terrorism suspects or allow a broader inquiry into the Bush administration's interrogation policies. Monday's disclosure represented a rare allegation by a detainee that he had lied while being subjected to harsh practices.
An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, said Mohammed's statements raised questions about the effectiveness of the CIA's interrogation program.
"It underscores the unreliability of statements obtained by torture," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project.
The CIA, however, took issue with the description of its interrogation techniques as torture and the assertion that they were not useful.
"The CIA plainly has a very different take on its past interrogation practices - what they were and what they weren't - and on the need to protect properly classified national security information," said Paul Gimigliano, an agency spokesman.
The bulk of the documents released Monday, consisting of transcripts of tribunal hearings held at Guantanamo Bay for accused al-Qaida members, had been released previously. But the Bush administration had classified many parts, including detainees' allegations that they were abused while in CIA custody. The re-released transcripts remained heavily redacted, containing long passages of blacked-out text.
The ACLU expressed disappointment that President Barack Obama, who has pledged greater openness, had decided to withhold so much of the information.
"The public has a right to know what took place in the CIA's secret prisons," Jaffer said, adding that the ACLU would continue to press in court for completely unclassified versions of transcripts from the tribunals.
The documents released Monday also contained a few new details about the detention of terrorism suspects. A newly declassified portion of Mohammed's transcript showed that the CIA apparently had told him that he had no constitutional rights.
"This is what I understand he told me: You are not American and you are not on American soil," Mohammed said in the military hearing. "So you cannot ask about the Constitution."
The newly declassified material provided little new information on the treatment of another so-called high value detainee, accused al-Qaida facilitator Abu Zubaydah. He was captured in a raid on a Pakistani compound in March 2002.
On one page, the CIA declassified two paragraphs in which Zubaydah complained about the lack of treatment of injuries he sustained in the shootout, including the loss of a testicle.
"They did not care about my injuries that they inflicted to my eye, to my stomach, to my bladder, and my left thigh and my reproductive organs," Zubaydah said. He went on to complain that he was "losing my masculinity. Even my beard is falling out, not from injuries but from the lack of treatment."
Ben Wizner, the lead ACLU attorney in the lawsuit seeking an unclassified version of the transcripts, said the techniques the CIA used to interrogate al-Qaida suspects were made public when the Obama administration earlier this year released Justice Department legal memos authorizing them, so there was no reason to keep the detainees' testimony secret.
"There is only one explanation for the continued suppression. It is not to protect national security; it is to protect the CIA from accountability," Wizner said.
Despite the CIA's efforts to suppress prisoners' statements concerning their treatment, other sources have provided highly detailed accounts - including a 2007 Red Cross report that surfaced publicly earlier this year.
In that document, Zubaydah described his reaction to being waterboarded, saying he thought he was going to die. "I lost control of my urine," Zubaydah told the Red Cross, according to the organization's report. "Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress."
More than 7 1/2 pages of the hearing transcript of Majid Khan, another accused al-Qaida member, remained classified and appeared as one long block of blacked-out text. Among the few newly released statements of Khan's include his assertion that the evidence against him was a result of torture.
"In the end," he said, "any classified information you have is through (redacted) agencies who physically and mentally tortured me."