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13 June 2005

Detainees at Guantanamo Provide Intelligence on Terrorist Plots

Pentagon says interrogation log shows active supervision, oversight

The Department of Defense issued a lengthy press release June 12 providing additional information about the process for interrogating detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with particular emphasis on a Saudi citizen who remains in detention.

The Pentagon’s release, issued on the same day as a Time magazine article was published about Detainee Number 063, says that Mohamed al-Kahtani’s interrogation yielded information about his connection to al-Qaida leaders including Osama Bin Laden.  The Time article covers a 50-day interrogation period of al-Kahtani from 2002 to 2003.

The Pentagon said the existence of the classified interrogation log provides evidence that al-Kahtani’s questioning at Camp X-Ray “proceeded according to a very detailed plan, which was conducted by trained professionals in a controlled environment with active supervision and oversight.”

The release also reiterates the department’s commitment “to the unequivocal standard of humane treatment for all detainees.”  All credible allegations of abuse, it said, “are investigated aggressively and individuals are held accountable for their actions.”

Further highlighting the degree of external oversight and supervision, the release said nearly 200 members of Congress or congressional staff members, as well as over 1,000 journalists, have visited the facility.  It also said the department works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross on detainee issues.  The Time article said military medical professionals checked al-Kahtani’s physical condition as often as three times daily.

There are still more than 520 detainees, or enemy combatants, in detention.  Pentagon spokesmen have said repeatedly that no individuals will be held any longer than necessary and that there are timed review processes in place to determine if detainees continue to harbor any intelligence information of value.

The release said more than 68,000 individuals have been detained in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo, but the vast majority has been released.  More than 200 have been released from Guantanamo alone. Some of those have returned as combatants against coalition forces, according to senior Defense Department officials.

Time reported that al-Kahtani was subjected to standard Army interrogation techniques.  It also reported that he was prevented from sleeping by dripping water and incessant music.  He was also forced to wear photographs of victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks, have his head and beard shaved, and to bark and growl like a dog when showed photos of terrorists.

Some Republican and Democratic members of Congress, along with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, have called for the shutdown of the Guantanamo facility.

It is not clear what would happen to detainees if the facility were closed.  In some cases, detainees have been released to their nations of origin.  During a recent trip to a NATO defense ministerial, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was questioned about that possibility and said there are large numbers of individuals that the United States would like to send to the Iraqi government but it lacks “the appropriate prisons and the criminal justice system at the present time to manage … and try them.”

In his June 9 comments, he also said U.S. officials have been urging the Afghan government to set up an appropriate prison and criminal-justice infrastructure “so they could take the Afghan [detainees] off our hands.”  The Bush administration’s goal, Rumsfeld said, is to put the detainees, for the most part, back in the hands of the authorities of their countries of origin to ensure they will not show up on the battlefield again.

When the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Richard Myers, was asked about the Guantanamo detention policy during his trip to Malaysia June 7, he said the plan is to move individuals through a military commission or civilian court system and “let justice prevail."  In the meantime, however, he said there is a hard core of detainees who are too dangerous to release.  He also said many of the detainees still have “great intelligence value that can, possibly, contribute to stopping further attacks.”

Additional information about the military-commission process is available on the Defense Department Web site

Following is the text of the Defense Department release:

(begin text)

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
June 12, 2005

Guantanamo Provides Valuable Intelligence Information

In response to recent media interest and the disclosure of a classified interrogation log from Guantanamo, the following information is provided. The compromised classified interrogation log is in reference to a single individual, Mohamed al Kahtani, a detainee believed to be the intended 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attack that killed more than 3,000 innocent people and injured countless others.  He was captured on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border after fleeing the fighting in Tora Bora.  In February 2002, due to his affiliation with al-Qaida, he was transported to Guantanamo for detention.

He is an al-Qaida operative with strong ties to senior al-Qaida leadership, including Osama Bin Laden.  He trained at terrorist camps in Afghanistan and tried to enter the U.S. in August 2001.  His attempt to enter the U.S. from the Middle East on a one-way airline ticket [with] $2,800 in cash was foiled by immigration officials at the Orlando International Airport.  Instead of meeting Mohamed Atta, the lead September 11th hijacker who was waiting for him at the airport, Kahtani returned to the Middle East.  Had Kahtani succeeded in entering the U.S., it is believed he would have been on United Airlines Flight 93, the only hijacked aircraft that had four hijackers instead of five.

The interrogation of Kahtani has enabled the Department of Defense to gain a clear picture of Kahtani's strong connection to al-Qaida leadership to include Osama Bin Laden.  For example, while Kahtani repeatedly offered various cover stories ranging from claims of being in Afghanistan to buy falcons to claims he was coming to the U.S. to buy a used car, interrogations were able to uncover the truth.

Kahtani's interrogation during this period was guided by a very detailed plan and conducted by trained professionals motivated by a desire to gain actionable intelligence, to include information that might prevent additional attacks on America.

To understand Kahtani's interrogation, it is important to remember the post-9/11 environment during this period.

-- There had just been anthrax attacks in the U.S. in December of 2001.

-- Richard Reid tried to blow up a U.S. airliner with a shoe bomb.

-- Over the spring and summer, there were deadly attacks in Tunisia and Pakistan.

-- In October 2002 al-Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri released a tape recording stating "God willing, we will continue targeting the keys of the American economy."

-- In September and October, the FBI broke up the Lackawana Six cell in New York.

-- On October 6, 2002, al-Qaida attacked a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen, an attack that harkened back to the killing of 17 service members on the USS Cole.

-- On October 8, 2002, al-Qaida gunmen shot and killed a U.S. Marine in Kuwait.

-- On October 12, 2002, al-Qaida affiliate Jemaah Islamiya bombed a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, killing more than 200 and injuring about 300.

-- On November 28, 2002, al-Qaida fired two anti aircraft missiles at a Boeing 757 aircraft flying from Mombassa, Kenya, to Israel; suicide bombers also attacked the Paradise Hotel in Mombassa, Kenya killing 15 and injuring 40.

-- On December 30, 2002, three U.S. citizens were killed in Yemen during an attack on Baptist Missionary Hospital.

The United States was clearly a country on high alert during this period and Kahtani -- a known al-Qaida terrorist -- was being held at Guantanamo and was believed to possess information essential to preventing future terrorist attacks.  Using approved and monitored interrogation approaches, including additional authorities approved by the Department of Defense in December 2002, Kahtani admitted he had been lying.  He also admitted:

-- He had been sent to the U.S. by Khalid Sheik Mohamed, the lead architect of the 9/11 attack;

-- That he had met Osama Bin Laden on several occasions;

-- That he had received terrorist training at two al-Qaida camps;

-- That he had been in contact with many senior al-Qaida leaders.

More importantly, he provided valuable intelligence information helping the U.S. to understand the recruitment of terrorist operatives, logistics, and other planning aspects of the 9/11 terrorist attack.  He also provided information that:

-- Clarified Jose Padilla's and Richard Reid's relationship with al-Qaida and their activities in Afghanistan

-- Provided infiltration routes and methods used by al-Qaida to cross borders undetected

-- Explained how Osama Bin Laden evaded capture by U.S. forces, as well as provided important information on his health

-- Provided detailed information about 30 of Osama Bin Laden's bodyguards who are also held at Guantanamo.

Guantanamo houses enemy combatants ranging from terrorist trainers and recruiters to bomb makers, would-be suicide bombers and terrorist financiers.

Guantanamo provides a strategic interrogation center where enemy combatants can be questioned and where the results of those interrogations has undoubtedly produced information that has saved the lives of U.S. and coalition forces in the field as well as thwarted threats posed to innocent citizens in this country and abroad.

The Department of Defense remains committed to the unequivocal standard of humane treatment for all detainees, and Kahtani's interrogation plan was guided by that strict standard.  The very fact that an interrogation log exists is evidence his interrogation proceeded according to a very detailed plan, which was conducted by trained professionals in a controlled environment, with active supervision and oversight.

When there have been credible allegations of abuse they are investigated aggressively and individuals are held accountable for their actions.

Guantanamo is also a facility under constant external oversight and supervision.  The department works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and representatives visit detainees in our charge at their discretion.  There have been 187 members of Congress and congressional staff who have visited Guantanamo to include 11 Senators, 77 Representatives and 99 congressional staff members.  There have also been some 400 media visits consisting of more than 1,000 national and international journalists.

The Department of Defense does not wish to hold detainees longer than necessary and effective processes are in place to regularly review the status of enemy combatants.  More than 68,000 detainees have been held in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo and the vast majority of them have been released.  There are only approximately 520 detainees in custody in Guantanamo.  While more than 200 detainees have departed Guantanamo, detainee releases or transfers are not without risks.  There have been approximately a dozen former detainees who were released from Guantanamo and have since taken part in anti-Coalition activities.

The Enemy Combatant Status Review Board was a formal review of all the information related to a detainee to determine whether the individual meets the criteria to be designated an enemy combatant.  Every detainee at Guantanamo has been evaluated against those criteria.  Additionally, an Annual Review Board periodically assesses whether an individual should be released, transferred or continued to be detained based on threat or continued intelligence value.

The joint team at Guantanamo, including military and civilian men and women, supports a vital mission guarding known terrorists.  This mission includes extended separations from their families, and requires a great deal of dedication and professionalism necessary to carry out this important part of the ongoing war on terrorism.

These interrogation logs are classified for security reasons; however, Kahtani's interrogation is one of the subjects of the FBI e-mails that U.S. Southern Command is investigating in the Schmidt-Furlow investigation ordered by General Craddock, the Combatant Commander at SOUTHCOM.   Additionally, the Department of Defense has notified the relevant committees of Congress of this latest information.  A classified briefing was also provided to the HASC and SASC staff on the logs in March.