Murphy's Law: July 24, 2005


  The Washington Posts recent coverage of the techniques used to extract valuable intelligence data from terrorist suspect Mohamed Qahtami is unique for what it did not tell,  not only about these techniques (which the Washington Post reporter unfairly linked to Abu Ghraib), but also about the investigation into the allegations made by FBI agents attached to the facility. What is not explained, puts these facts in context, as opposed to the distorted picture painted by the media and human rights groups.

First, lets look at Mr. Qahtami. Mohamed Qahtami is a senior al-Qaeda operative who was slated to be the fifth hijacker on Flight 93 (this is the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania after a revolt by the passengers), but was denied entry in August, 2001. He was captured along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in December, 2001. He was a trained terrorist sent to murder Americans (and others). Qahtami had held out against normal interrogation techniques over a period of eight months, and so permission was granted to use more aggressive techniques to get the information to engender a sense that resistance would be futile. 

They succeeded, and within two months, Qahtami was soon providing valuable intelligence on al-Qaedas plans for future operations, how it was organized, and how the organization supported operations. The techniques were all within the limits set by Defense Department policy in and of themselves. The cumulative effect was seen as abusive by the investigators. It is also to be noted that Qahtami was the only detainee these techniques were used on. What is also worth noting was that this was one of two options that had been devised. There are no details on the other one and it turned out not to be needed.

The Washington Post also left out three other incidents that also place the interrogation of Qahtami into perspective. The first was an incident uncovered during the investigation of the allegations from FBI agents. A naval officer threatened the mother of one detainee, a violation of Article 134 the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That matter has been referred to the Naval Investigative Service for investigation. In a second incident, an inmate who was chanting had duct tape placed over his mouth by MPs at the direction of an interrogator concerned about a potential riot. The person responsible was verbally reprimanded by a JAG in this one-time incident. The official report has recommended that a formal reprimand be given to the person responsible. In the third incident, an interrogator who was spat on, responded by  smearing some red ink on the detainee and telling him she was menstruating. She was verbally reprimanded as well. Again, the report said that a formal reprimand was needed. However, since the interrogator has left the military, no further action has been taken. A number of these allegations, including use of sleep deprivation, interference with FBI agents, and denial of food and water, were found to have no basis in fact or to involve authorized techniques that remained within the guidelines (such as playing Britney Spears and Metallica, the adjustment of air conditioning, and the application of perfume).

There is also a fundamental difference between what happened at Abu Ghraib and what went on at Guantanamo Bay. At Guantanamo Bay, the special techniques were authorized and the proper authorities were informed. Abu Ghraib was the actions of some rogue military policemen. The only thing the controversies involved have in common is that when the lines were crossed, action was taken, and those who crossed the lines were punished. The Washington Post has not told this side of the story and by failing to tell this side of the story and instead focusing on a tenuous link to Abu Ghraib, it paints a misleading picture of what has gone on at Guantanamo Bay. Harold C. Hutchison (


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