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Detainee Treatment Remains Key as Officials Weigh Guantanamo’s Future

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2009 – With both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and President-elect Barack Obama advocating closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, the Defense Department is focused on a way forward that protects the American people while also ensuring proper detainee treatment, a senior defense official said today.

A decision by the convening authority for military commissions that a detainee suspected of being the 20th 9/11 hijacker was submitted to inappropriate interrogation methods does not mean the case against him won’t ultimately go forward, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

Judge Susan. J. Crawford told the Washington Post in an interview published today that she did not refer the case against Mohammed al-Qhatani to a military commission because she believed his treatment met the legal definition of torture.

Crawford told the Washington Post she did not refer the case against Qhatani because he had been subjected to so-called “special interrogation techniques” that were authorized for a brief period in 2002. Instead, she dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning that the prosecution can return to the convening authority at a later time with more evidence to re-swear the charges.

“Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Qhatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual,” Whitman told reporters today. The Army published Field Manual 2-22.3, “Human Intelligence Collector Operations,” in 2006 to replace the previous manual with clearly worded doctrinal guidance on conducting military interrogations within U.S. and international law.

Whitman said the Defense Department has taken great efforts to ensure it conducts interrogations and detainee operations in a legal manner.

“We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of al-Qhatani, the alleged 20th hijacker,” he said. “The investigations concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo Bay], including the special interrogation techniques used with Qhatani in 2002, were legal.”

Despite those findings, department officials adopted new and more restrictive policies, Whitman said, as well as improved oversight procedures for interrogation and detainee operations.

Whitman emphasized that the department does not tolerate detainee abuse.

“We have always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” he said. “We investigate all credible allegations of abuse,” including more than a dozen internal investigations and major reviews of interrogation procedures and detainee operations.

Crawford’s decision on the Qhatani case made news as two other detainees were being arraigned at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind behind the USS Cole bombing and other terrorist attacks, and Noor Uthman Muhammad, an alleged Taliban and al-Qaida leader, were scheduled to be arraigned today.

The Defense Department works to ensure full and fair proceedings that give both the prosecution and defense the opportunity to present evidence, Whitman said.

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