High-Level Detainee Providing Valuable Intelligence
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 14, 2005 A sworn supporter of Osama bin Laden being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has provided valuable intelligence into al Qaeda operations and the planning before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a top U.S. general told members of Congress July 13.
Mohamed al-Kahtani was captured along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in December 2001. Officials believe he was to have been to 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks, but he was denied entry into the United States at Orlando International Airport in August 2001.
Kahtani was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in February 2002. Since then, he has provided insights into al Qaeda's methods and criteria for recruiting operatives and the logistics involved in carrying out attacks, Army Gen. Bantz Craddock, the chief of U.S. Southern Command, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"He described the facilitators he met along the way, the methods of financing the (Sept. 11) operation, the way he obtained his U.S. visa, and the logistics involved in traveling to the United States and communicating with his handlers along the way," Craddock said.
By the fall of 2002 Kahtani had successfully resisted all interrogation techniques for eight months, so interrogators at Guantanamo requested, and received, permission to use more aggressive techniques. Craddock said officials were particularly interested in information about any possible attacks on the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The application of these more aggressive techniques between November 2002 and January 2003 "led to breaking Kahtani's resistance and to solid intelligence gains," Craddock said.
Some aggressive techniques used against Kahtani were reviewed in an internal investigation into alleged abuses at Guantanamo Bay. Craddock and other senior officers were on Capitol Hill to discuss the results of this investigation.
Investigators ultimately found that the cumulative effect of "creative," aggressive interrogations over the course of several months amounted to "abusive" behavior, but that it did not amount to torture or "inhumane" treatment since Kahtani suffered no injuries or was never denied food, shelter or medical care.
Craddock and Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, the chief investigator of the abuse allegations, said it's important to keep in mind who interrogators were dealing with. "This is not a person that we have any compassion for, and it was difficult to find any pity for this man," Schmidt, commander of U.S. Southern Command's air component, told committee members. "He admitted to being the 20th hijacker, and he expected to fly on United Airlines Flight 93 (which was hijacked and crashed in rural Pennsylvania on Sept. 11). He proved to have intimate knowledge of future (al Qaeda) plans."
In his testimony, Craddock explained that U.S. officials know al Qaeda teaches its members how to resist interrogation. "If we use interrogation techniques that they are prepared for, they won't work," he said. "So the intent (of aggressive interrogation techniques) is to get into their space, cause them discomfort, to create a situation where they start to talk and we gain information."
Craddock stressed that these "special techniques" were only used on Kahtani. At one point interrogators requested to use them on another detainee, but that detainee subsequently began to cooperate, and the plan was never implemented.
"That's one individual (subjected to) interrogation techniques that some may find, in a cumulative effect, degrading and abusive," Craddock said. He stressed that the techniques and interrogation applications used on Kahtani were never used on the general detainee population.
"There were two (special interrogation) plans developed, only one implemented, and the rest of the detainees never got into a special interrogation plan -- completely different techniques and applications used for them," he noted.
"I think we need to keep that in perspective as we think through this," he added.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions agreed with the generals' assessment that the interrogation procedures did not constitute torture and were necessary to the global war on terrorism. "These are not American citizens charged with fraud or dope dealing. They are terrorists waging war against civilization and democracy around the world," Sessions said. "I think we cannot deny ourselves the right to utilize techniques within the rules of war that allow us to interrogate and get information that can save innocent lives."
Craddock and Schmidt were emphatic that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are still a vital source of intelligence information. "We have and we are today still getting information that is relevant, that it is actionable, and is supporting our servicemembers in the field in the global war on terrorism," Craddock said.
"(Guantanamo Bay) continues to be a fertile ground for information," Schmidt added.
"These and other intelligence gains come only through persistence, patience and ... diligence," Craddock said. "These traits, along with the highest standards of professional conduct, are the hallmarks of the men and women serving our nation today as part of Joint Task Force Guantanamo."