TIME politics

What Happened When I Spoke Out About the CIA’s Guantanamo Black Site

Detention at Guantanamo grinds on: 13 years and counting, 148 captives remain
A soldier walks by Camp Delta, which no longer holds detainees, on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in this photo approved for release by the U.S. military. Miami Herald—TNS via Getty Images

Joseph Hickman is a senior research fellow at Seton Hall Law Schools Center for Policy and Research.

In 2006, I was a guard on duty at the time of the Guantanamo 'suicides.' What I saw directly contradicted the government’s explanations

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA torture program released Tuesday revealed many disturbing facts. Importantly, it exposed the lengths to which the CIA went to keep their brutal torture program a secret and the lies that they told to other branches of the U.S. government, the media, and the public about what they were doing, how they were doing it, and the intelligence they were getting from it.

This is not the first time the curtain has been pulled back on the CIA’s actions. Americans have spoken out against the torture program before and been punished for it. In the coming months, as the CIA tries to justify the program and paint its actions in rosier colors, it’s important to remember that because of the agency’s lies, men and women who spoke about the torture program were defamed, discredited, and even, in one case, imprisoned.

In a Harper’s Magazine article written by Scott Horton in 2010, I spoke out about three suspicious Guantanamo detainee deaths that were reported as suicides in 2006 by the U.S. government. I was a guard on duty at the time of the deaths and saw things that directly contradicted the government’s explanations. I believe the detainees were tortured and died at a CIA black site located on the base. Government officials and critics said the site was not a CIA facility, that I was lying, and that my story was “nonsense.” Some even called me a traitor and said I was dishonoring the men and woman in uniform. An investigation into the detainees’ deaths was conducted, but no one was ever charged. The results of the investigation only brought up further questions in my mind.

Almost four years after the government tried to discredit me in 2010, an Associated Press article revealed that the very site where I said the detainees died was in fact a CIA black site. Though I felt betrayed by my government and even punished for trying to report a war crime, others that have come forward and reported wrongdoings have experienced far worse than I.

In 2007, retired CIA Agent John Kiriakou became the first to report publicly on ABC News that the CIA was waterboarding detainees. In later interviews he called for national debates on waterboarding and asked Congress to address the issue. Afterwards, the CIA went after Kiriakou. They reported him to the Justice Department for leaking classified information and confirming the identity of one of the interrogators in the CIA torture program to a reporter (though the reporter never published the agent’s name). The Justice Department bought into the CIA’s lies and charged Kiriakou with violating the Espionage Act and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Out of money and fearful of serving decades behind bars, Kiriakou pled guilty to one count of passing classified information to a reporter and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

The Justice Department stated Tuesday that they will not pursue criminal charges against anyone that was involved in the CIA’s torture program. Ironically, that decision makes Kiriakou the only person serving a prison sentence for the program.

As more is revealed about the torture program and the CIA tries to prove their patriotism, the American people have to ask themselves how much they can trust the CIA and who the real American patriots are. Is it the leaders in the CIA’s torture program and the government officials that lied to the public? Or are the real American patriots people like John Kiriakou, who spoke truth to power and reported injustices?

Joseph Hickman is author of the upcoming book Murder at Camp Delta and senior research fellow at Seton Hall Law Schools Center for Policy and Research.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME National Security

Guantanamo Bay Detainee Details ‘Sadistic’ Abuse

Guantanamo Bay Facility Continues To Serve As Detention Center For War Detainees
A Public Affairs Officer escorts media through the currently closed Camp X-Ray which was the first detention facility to hold 'enemy combatants' at the U.S. Naval Station on June 27, 2013 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Deprived of sleep, drugged, and forced to watch pornographic footage or videos of other prisoners being abused

A man detained in Guantanamo Bay for nearly 13 years has said he was subjected to “dirty and sadistic” abuse at the prison, days after a Senate report revealed the extent of the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation tactics.

In a first-person account for the human rights organization Reprieve and published on CNN, Samir Naji from Yemen says he was deprived of sleep, drugged, and forced to watch pornographic footage or videos of other prisoners being abused.

Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, was cleared for release in 2009 but remains in detention along with 135 other inmates.

“The dirty and sadistic methods I endured — which were then taken directly to Abu Ghraib — achieved nothing, except to shame that American flag hanging in the prison corridor,” he says in the account. “America cannot keep hiding from its past, and its present, like this. Our stories, and our continued detention, cannot be made to disappear.”

Read more at CNN

TIME Guantanamo

Where Are All Those Freed Guantanamo Detainees Now?

Moazzam Begg, a Pakistani-British man who spent three years in Guantanamo between 2002 and 2005.
Moazzam Begg, a Pakistani-British man who spent three years in Guantanamo between 2002 and 2005, pictured in London, Oct. 1, 2014. Rob Stothard—Getty Images

More than 600 former Guantanamo Bay detainees have ended up in over 53 countries

Over the dozen years since the Guantanamo Bay detention camp opened, more than 630 people have been allowed to leave the controversial U.S. prison in Cuba.

Over the weekend, six more inmates joined their ranks when they were moved to Uruguay as President Barack Obama continued to attempt to fulfill his long-held promise of shuttering the prison. The latest transfers reduced the number of inmates to 136, the lowest since the prison’s earliest days.

But where did all those inmates go? Those who have been transferred or released have been sent to at least 53 different countries, according to a list compiled by the New York Times and NPR. The majority have been repatriated to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but hundreds of others have been repatriated or transferred to countries around the world.

(See more: Inside Guantanamo)

The majority have stayed away from terrorist activity and attempted to resume their lives, often in unexpected places. But 107 former detainees have since engaged in terrorist activity and another 77 are suspected of engaging in it as of July, the Office of Director of National Intelligence said in its semiannual report.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the countries that harbor former Gitmo detainees:

The United Kingdom

Moazzam Begg, one of 14 detainees transferred to Britain, is a British citizen of Pakistani descent who was detained in Pakistan in 2002 as a suspected al-Qaeda member and sent to Guantanamo for three years. He was released and dispatched to Britain in 2005, where he became a public speaker and activist; he was arrested again last February and charged with funding terrorism in Syria. Those charges were dropped in October.

Kuwait

Fawzi al-Odah was repatriated to Kuwait in November after nearly 13 years without a trial, marking the first of a recent wave of transfers from Guantanamo. As part of the agreement with Kuwait, which has taken in 11 former detainees, al-Odah will remain in custody for a yearlong rehabilitation program.

France

Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian who was detained while living in Bosnia in 2001, spent seven years in Guantanamo. Boumediene, who had been working for the Muslim branch of the Red Cross, went on a two-year hunger strike opposing his detention, and his case was brought to the Supreme Court, which issued a seminal decision in 2008 that Boumediene and other Guantanamo prisoners had a right to use the writ of habeas corpus under the U.S. Constitution. In the wake of that decision, he was ordered released — and in 2009 became one of nine former detainees who have been transferred to France, where he settled with his wife and three children.

Spain

Lahcen Ikassrien was handed over to Spanish custody in 2005 after the alleged Taliban fighter spent four years in Guantanamo; Spain soon released him for lack of evidence. In June, he was among nine people detained in a police sting on a network of jihadist recruiters.

Georgia

Six Guantanamo inmates have been transferred to Georgia since 2010, including three Yemenis who were resettled there last month (two others were sent to Slovakia).

Qatar

Six inmates have been transferred to Qatar, including one Qatari citizen in 2008 and five Afghan citizens who were released in exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl earlier this year in a Qatar-brokered deal with the Taliban. As part of the agreement, Qatar said it would impose a one-year travel ban on the five men.

Bermuda

In 2009, four Chinese Muslim men who had spent seven years in the U.S. prison were sent to Bermuda. The men, members of the restive Uighur community from Western China, were among the 22 Uighurs who had been detained in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan but were later determined not have been enemy combatants. China called for their repatriation–which would have likely led to continued imprisonment–but then Bermuda Prime Minister Ewart Brown negotiated their release. Yet five years after they arrived in Bermuda, activists said that the men still lacked passports and were effectively stranded on the island.

Uruguay

The six men now in Uruguay, including four Syrians, a Tunisian, and a Palestinian, are expected to learn Spanish and adapt to new lives in Uruguay after more than 12 years in Guantanamo. They had been approved for release in 2009 but the U.S. could not find a destination for them until Uruguayan President Jose Mujica agreed to accept them on humanitarian grounds. “It is difficult for me to express how grateful I am for the immense trust that you, the Uruguayan people, placed in me and the other prisoners when you opened the doors of your country to us,” Abedlhadi Omar Faraj, one of the Syrian former inmates, said in a statement released by his attorney.

TIME

Morning Must Reads: December 8

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

California Protests Turn Violent

A second night of protest against police killings in Missouri and New York City turned violent again in Berkeley, Calif., as some demonstrators threw explosives at officers, assaulted each other and shut down a freeway, police said

Why Dealing With Uncertainty is Easier for Some People

A study identifies personality traits that may distinguish those who are better or worse at waiting — some of which, thankfully, may be adaptable

Behind the Rescue Op in Yemen

Navy SEALs flew into southern Yemen early on Saturday to rescue American captive Luke Somers, but they only succeeded in rescuing his body

U.S. Gas Prices Hit 4-Year Low

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline has dropped 12¢ over the past two weeks, reaching a four-year low, a new survey finds. The falloff is attributed to a spike in crude-oil production in North America, a slowdown in demand and a strong dollar

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Tops Box-Office for Third Week

Mockingjay benefits from star power, family friendliness and established popularity. But even so, its box-office power is less attributable to esteem for the franchise than to the fact that it doesn’t have much competition right now

Ebola Patient Reveals Identity

A doctor who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Sierra Leone and was evacuated to the U.S. for care in September has revealed his identity. The viral load in his blood was 100 times that of the facility’s other patients

Prince William and Kate Arrive in New York City

Prince William and Kate arrived in New York City on Sunday night for a three-day trip, the most anticipated royal visit since the glory days of Diana. “The level of excitement in New York has been absolutely phenomenal,” said the British consul general

U.S. Transfers 6 Guantanamo Detainees

The men were moved from Guantanamo Bay to Uruguay, marking the largest group to depart the prison since 2009 and first resettle in South America. The detainees include four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian

Democrats Sink in the South

The fall of Sen. Mary Landrieu means Louisiana won’t have a Democratic statewide elected official for the first time since 1876. The Republican Party will control every Senate seat, governor’s mansion and legislative chamber from the Carolinas to Texas

Boyhood Wins Another Top Prize

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association has awarded Boyhood four prizes, including Best Picture, in the latest coup for the coming-of-age movie. Just a day earlier, the Boston Society of Film Critics honored the film with five awards, also including Best Picture

New Delhi Bans Uber Following Rape Accusation

The city of New Delhi banned popular ride-sharing service Uber on Monday afternoon, a few days after a 27-year-old female passenger accused one of its drivers of sexually assaulting her. However the ban is not in connection with the alleged attack but rather transport laws

Inventor of First Gaming Console Dies

Ralph Baer, the man known for creating the first-ever video-game console, which still serves as a blueprint for the Xboxes and PlayStations of today, has passed away aged 92. Over the course of his career, he accumulated over 150 patents and won many awards and honors

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TIME Military

Navy Nurse Refuses Gitmo Force Feed Order

Guantanamo Hunger Strike
In this photo Nov. 20, 2013 file photo reviewed by the U.S. military, a U.S. Navy nurse stands next to a chair with restraints, used for force-feeding, and a tray displaying nutritional shakes, a tube for feeding through the nose, and lubricants, including a jar of olive oil, during a tour of the detainee hospital at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Charles Dharapak—AP

A detainee described the act as a conscientious objection

A Navy medical officer at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba has refused an order to continue force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners in what one detainee lawyer described as an act of conscientious objection.

“There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry-out the enteral feeding of a detainee. The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in an email. “The service member has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations.”

It is the first known instance of a U.S. service member rebelling against the Pentagon’s force-feeding policy. An unknown number of the 149 detainees at Guantánamo’s Camp Delta have been on hunger strike for the past year and a half to protest their indefinite detention.

News of the refusal comes to the public by way of an attorney for one of the detainees, who, according to The Miami Herald, says his client described how some time before the Fourth of July a Navy medical nurse suddenly shifted course and refused to continue force-feeding prisoners. The nurse, he said, was abruptly removed from duty at the detention center. The attorney said his client described the nurse’s action as a conscientious objection.

The Herald reports that the prisoner who provided news of the incident described the nurse as a roughly 40-year-old Latino man most likely with the rank of lieutenant in the Navy.

Last year, civilian doctors writing for the New England Journal of Medicine declared that medical professionals taking part in force-feeding was unethical and called the Guantánamo medical staff to refuse to participate.

TIME Guantanamo

You Can Now Apply to Be a Teacher at Guantánamo Bay

Earn between $50.50 and $101 teaching children of military officers at Gitmo

If you are a teacher looking for a job with a difference, you may want to check out a new posting on federalgovernmentjobs.us — but only if you are willing to work at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“Do you want to work for an exciting educational organization, with the children of our dedicated U.S. military members?” asks the Department of Defense, in a Wednesday job posting first reported by Gawker. If the answer for you is yes, you may apply for a substitute teacher position; they are looking to fill “many vacancies” at Guantánamo for a salary of $50.50 to $101 per day.

Your duties would include planning and organizing lessons for the children of U.S. military personnel and generally contributing to their intellectual and social development. In addition to the willingness to work near a controversial detention facility where prisoners have been subject to controversial interrogation techniques, you must have U.S. citizenship to apply.

TIME Terrorism

Capture of Benghazi Suspect Again Raises Question: Guantanamo or the Courts?

U.S. President Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq at the White House
U.S. President Barack Obama on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, June 13, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

Obama Administration opting for courts, after a Navy cruise

The capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the recently-snatched alleged ringleader of the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, once again highlights the split in the national debate over how to handle terrorists: Are they prisoners of war, or are they criminals?

Many terrorists linked to al-Qaeda were sent to Guantanamo Bay during George W. Bush’s presidency. Many others have been tried in civilian courts. According to the nonprofit group Human Rights First, there have been almost 500 people convicted on terror-related charges in federal civilian criminal courts since 9/11, compared to eight convictions in the Pentagon’s military commissions.

The Obama Administration prefers the federal court route, which is how it plans to proceed with Khattala—generating Republican criticism. “The Obama Administration should immediately transfer him to the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay for detention and interrogation,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“Rather than rushing to read him his Miranda rights and telling him he has the right to remain silent, I hope the Administration will focus on collecting the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks,” added Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Who’d have thought a 1966 Supreme Court ruling designed to protect Ernesto Arturo Miranda’s confession to kidnapping, rape and armed robbery while under police interrogation would become the rope in a tug-of-war between the White House and Congress nearly a half-century later on how to handle captured terrorists?

Legal expert Jack Goldsmith. a former Pentagon lawyer now teaching at Harvard Law School, doubts the U.S. could hold Khattala in military detention, or try him before a military commission. That’s because Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has said the Benghazi attack didn’t fall under the congressional authorization for the use of military force, nor, in Goldsmith’s view, did it amount to a “conflict subject to the rules of war.”

Sending Khattala to Guantanamo is “the easy way out,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), chairman of the judiciary committee, who applauded his move into the federal court system. “We will try Khattala just as we have successfully tried more than 500 terrorism suspects since 9/11.”

The Obama Administration is actually straddling the issue, by housing Khattala aboard a Navy vessel in the Mediterranean for questioning (the Los Angeles Times reports he did get a Miranda warning “shortly after his capture” following initial questioning about other potential terror threats under a “public safety” exemption). “We should have some quality time with this guy—weeks and months,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an Air Force reserve lawyer, said Tuesday. “Don’t torture him, but have some quality time with him.”

The Administration has questioned at least two other terror suspects aboard ships for up to two months before dispatching them into the federal court system.

“The only reason for having him on a U.S. warship is to provide a nice quiet environment where the investigators can work their wiles on him,” says Eugene Fidell, a military-law lecturer at the Yale Law School and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice. “If the government wanted to have Khattala at the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse [in Washington, D.C.] by four o’clock, he’d be there. The notion seems to have taken root that the government has, if not all the time in the world, as much time as it reasonably wants to see if can coax these people into making statements.”

TIME foreign affairs

I Helped Free the Taliban From Guantánamo Bay

Taliban hand over Bergdahl to US Forces
The Taliban detainees, known as the "Taliban Five", who released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl are Mohammad Fazl, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Norullah Noori, and Mohammad Nabi Omari. Polaris

A lawyer who defended one of the men traded for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl explains why he defends "the worst of the worst"

On March 6, 1770, a 34-year-old Boston lawyer, John Adams, agreed to a request that he represent a British captain and eight soldiers who had, the previous night, opened fire on a crowd of protesting civilians, killing five of them. The event became known to history as the Boston Massacre. Adams was told that no other lawyer would take the case. He suffered in the public eye and later said that it had cost him more than half of his law practice. But he was proud of his representation of the hated soldiers, calling it “one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.”

I am no John Adams — far from it. But I am an American lawyer who believes not only that even the most despised person — perhaps especially the most despised — has the right to a vigorous defense. Moreover, from of my experience as a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer, all too often the government’s charges against an accused will not stand up to serious scrutiny.

Together with two of my North Carolina colleagues, I have represented five Guantánamo detainees since 2007, including one of the Taliban prisoners recently transferred to Qatar in exchange for the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. I agreed to represent them on a pro bono basis because of my conviction that if lawyers do not step forward to challenge government overreaching, who will? What I have learned demonstrates that careful examination of the evidence will puncture the exaggerated and hysterical claims of politicians and pundits.

Such is the case with the men detained at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Altogether, some 779 Muslim men from 43 different countries, whose ages have ranged from 13 to 90, were brought, hooded and shackled on clandestine flights, to Gitmo (as the base is informally called) to be kept in isolation from family, friends and — had the government had its way — from lawyers. Bush Administration leaders claimed that they had been “picked up on the battlefield fighting American forces,” were “the worst of the worst,” “bombmakers,” “terrorists,” “among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth,” “associated with Al-Qaeda.”

Yet that Administration, quietly and without court compulsion, released well over 500 of them, and the Obama Administration, which inherited 242 detainees, has released others, according to a report from Seton Hall. Some men have died during their prolonged custody — and some of those by their own hand. As it turns out from the publically available facts, the overwhelming majority were not who our government claimed they were. U.S. forces captured only 5% of them. Others were bought from tribesmen motivated by the large American bounties. Eighty-six percent were arrested by the Northern Alliance or Pakistani authorities, having been captured for reasons that are, to say the least, opaque. Some were seized from their homes, places of work, or simply off the street, mostly in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, often based upon anonymous allegations of a connection to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Most were never on a battlefield and had not been determined to have committed any hostile act at all against the U.S. or its allies. The government officials and politicians simply misstated the facts.

John Adams knew the importance of focusing on the facts, not on labels. He told the Boston jury this: “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” That jury examined the facts, and it acquitted the British captain and six of his eight soldiers, convicting the other two only of manslaughter.

In the cases of the Guantánamo detainees, we lawyers cannot discuss the specific facts publicly, because we were required to trade our free speech for access to the classified evidence necessary to represent our clients. But it is telling that after over a dozen years of detention, the government has managed to charge, try and convict only a handful — fewer than 10 — of the 779 men it brought to the base. Five were convicted of minor charges (some that were not even crimes at the time of their detention) and have been released. One of the convictions was overturned on appeal; other appeals remain pending. This is not a record of ringing prosecutorial success. Of the five men I represented, including the Taliban political official just sent to Qatar, none were ever charged with even the most minor crime; they were simply held for years without charges until it pleased the government to send them back. Where is the evidence that they are terrorists? About half of the 149 men still left at Guantánamo have long been determined not to be a threat and have been approved for transfer; the only impediments to their release are political.

In his closing speech to that Boston jury, John Adams quoted these lines from the Italian penologist, Cesare, Marchese di Beccaria:

If, by supporting the rights of mankind, and of invincible truth, I shall contribute to save from the agonies of death one unfortunate victim of tyranny, or of ignorance, equally fatal, his blessings and years of transport will be sufficient consolation to me for the contempt of all mankind.

Contesting the basis for our country’s indefinite detention of these men has been costly and challenging, but professionally fulfilling. Certain episodes in our history — the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II comes to mind — are now regarded in hindsight as tragic aberrations from American values. At such times it is the duty of lawyers to step forward and hold the nation accountable to its ideals.

TIME Guantanamo

These Are the 5 Guantanamo Detainees Being Released in Exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told Congress on Saturday that the United States would be transferring five detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Their release is in exchange for the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan nearly five years ago.

Though Hagel did not mention any names in his statement, TIME has confirmed their identities with a senior administration official.

Previous releases of terror suspects from Guantanamo have seen mixed results. Some have returned to private life, others have gone on to fight again in Afghanistan and now in Syria. That’s the case with Ibrahim bin Shakaran, a former Moroccan detainee who was recently killed while commanding an al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist group in Syria.

This time, the U.S. isn’t taking any chances. The five, high-ranking members of the Afghan Taliban — whose names were first floated as part of an exchange deal in 2012 — will be transferred to Qatar, where they will live under close observation in some form of house arrest.

A look at who will be released:

1. Mohammad Fazl

One of the first detainees captured in Afghanistan to be transferred to Guantanamo — in January 2002 — Fazl is the Taliban’s former deputy minister of defense. He was one of the Taliban’s founding members, rising through the ranks to become Taliban Chief of Army Staff when it ruled Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch accuses Fazl of presiding over the mass killings of Afghanistan’s Shi’ite Muslims in 2000 and 2001.

2. Mohammad Nabi

The former chief of Taliban security in Qalat, the capital of Afghanistan’s southern Zabul Province, Nabi was a latecomer to the Taliban, joining only in the late 1990s. After taking a few years away, he rejoined in 2000 to work as a radio operator for the Taliban’s communications office. He has claimed during U.S. military interrogations to have been working for the C.I.A. in the search for Taliban Chief Mullah Omar and al-Qaeda operatives. Those confessions may earn him difficulties upon his release.

3. Abdul Haq Wasiq

Also accused by Human Rights Watch of mass killings and torture during the Taliban’s time in power, the Taliban’s former deputy minister of intelligence is considered to have been at one time one of Mullah Omar’s closest confidants, with a direct line to the elusive leader.

4. Mullah Norullah Nori

Nori was the senior Taliban commander in the strategic northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif when U.S. forces arrived in late 2001. A former governor of two northern provinces, he is considered to be one of the most high-ranking Taliban officials ever to be held in Guantanamo. He is also accused of being involved in the massacre of thousands Shi’ite Muslims in 2000 and 2001, when the Taliban attempted to purge Afghanistan of what it deemed a deviant form of Islam.

5. Khairullah Khairkhwa

The former Taliban governor of Heart Province, which borders Iran, Khairkhwa has also served as a military commander and a minister of the interior. He was close to Mullah Omar as well as current Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who briefly worked with the Taliban administration in the 1990s. According to the Associated Press, Khairkhwa’s U.S.-based lawyers have argued in court filings that by the time of his capture in 2002 he had already distanced himself from the Taliban.

TIME Archives

Inside the Interrogation of Detainee 063

Detainee 063 Cover
The June 20, 2005, cover of TIME Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID MOORE / PHOTONICA

EXCLUSIVE: To get the '20th Hijacker' to talk, the U.S. used a wide range of tactics. A secret log reveals the first documented view of how Gitmo really works

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The prisoner known around the U.S. naval station at Guantánamo Bay as Detainee 063 was a hard man to break. Defiant from the start, he told his captors that he had been in Afghanistan to pursue his love of falconry. But the young Saudi prisoner who wouldn’t talk was not just any detainee. He was Mohammed al-Qahtani, a follower of Osama bin Laden’s and the man believed by many to be the so-called 20th hijacker. He had tried to enter the U.S. in August 2001, allegedly to take part in the Sept. 11 attacks. But while Mohammed Atta, the eventual leader of the hijackers, was waiting outside in the Orlando, Fla., airport parking lot, al-Qahtani was detained inside — and then deported — by an alert immigration officer who didn’t buy his story.

More than a year later, after al-Qahtani had been captured in Afghanistan and transferred to Gitmo’s Camp X-Ray, his interrogation was going nowhere. So in late November 2002, according to an 84-page secret interrogation log obtained by TIME, al-Qahtani’s questioners switched gears. They suggested to their captive that he had been spared by Allah in order to reveal the true meaning of the Koran and help bring down bin Laden.

During a routine check of his medical condition, a sergeant approached al-Qahtani and whispered in his ear, “What is God telling you right now? Your 19 friends died in a fireball and you weren’t with them. Was that God’s choice? Is it God’s will that you stay alive to tell us about his message?” At that point, the log states, al-Qahtani threw his head back and butted the sergeant in the eye. Two MPs wrestled al-Qahtani to the ground. The sergeant crouched down next to the thrashing terrorist, who tried to spit on him. The sergeant’s response: “Go ahead and spit on me. It won’t change anything. You’re still here. I’m still talking to you and you won’t leave until you’ve given God’s message.”

The interrogation log of Detainee 063 provides the first internal look at the highly classified realm of Gitmo interrogations since the detention camp opened four years ago. Chief Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita tells TIME that the log was compiled by various uniformed interrogators and observers on the Pentagon’s Joint Task Force at Gitmo as the interrogation proceeded. It is stamped SECRET ORCON, a military acronym for a document that is supposed to remain with the organization that created it. A Pentagon official who has seen the log describes it as the “kind of document that was never meant to leave Gitmo.”

The log reads like a night watchman’s diary. It is a sometimes shocking and often mundane hour-by-hour, even minute-by-minute account of a campaign to extract information. The log records every time al-Qahtani eats, sleeps, exercises or goes to the bathroom and every time he complies with or refuses his interrogators’ requests. The detainee’s physical condition is frequently checked by medical corpsmen — sometimes as often as three times a day — which indicates either spectacular concern about al-Qahtani’s health or persistent worry about just how much stress he can take. Although the log does not appear obviously censored, it is also plainly incomplete: there are numerous gaps in the notes about what is said and what is happening in the interrogation booth beyond details like “Detainee taken to bathroom and walked for 10 minutes.”

Despite the information gaps, the log offers a rare glimpse into the darker reaches of intelligence gathering, in which teams that specialize in extracting information by almost any means match wits and wills with men who are trained to keep quiet at almost any cost. It spans 50 days in the winter of 2002-03, from November to early January, a critical period at Gitmo, during which 16 additional interrogation techniques were approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for use on a select few detainees, including al-Qahtani.

By itself, the log doesn’t make clear how effective the interrogations were. The Pentagon contends that al-Qahtani has been a valuable source of information: providing details of meetings with bin Laden, naming people and financial contacts in several Arab countries, describing terrorist training camps where bin Laden lives and explaining how he may have escaped from Tora Bora in December 2001.

Pentagon officials tell TIME that most of the intelligence gleaned from those sessions was recorded in other documents. But the interrogation log gives a rare window into the techniques used by the U.S. military, suggesting at least in this case that disclosures were sometimes obtained not when al-Qahtani was under duress but when his handlers eased up on him.

The case of Detainee 063 is sure to add fire to the superheated debate about the use of American power in the age of terrorism. The U.S. has been criticized for mistreating Gitmo prisoners and denying their rights at a facility Amnesty International has controversially called the “gulag of our time.” Along with lawmakers and human-rights groups, former President Jimmy Carter has called on Washington officials to shut the camp down. Even President George W. Bush told Fox News last week that his Administration was exploring alternatives to the detention center.

How should a democratic nation proceed when it captures a high-value prisoner like al-Qahtani, when unlocking a mind might save lives? Experts acknowledge that brute torture generally doesn’t work because a person will say anything to stop the pain. So what, exactly, is effective? And when do the ends justify the means?

From the moment Mohammed al-Qahtani stepped off a Virgin Atlantic flight in Orlando back in August 2001, immigration officials noticed something troubling about him. He had arrived on a one-way ticket yet carried only $2,800 in cash, barely enough to buy his return. When an official pressed him for details about his destination, al-Qahtani was hostile and evasive. With an interpreter’s help, the immigration agent questioned al-Qahtani for 90 min. and then sent him packing. Al-Qahtani’s parting words: “I’ll be back.”

From London, al-Qahtani made his way to the United Arab Emirates and then to Afghanistan to fight against the U.S. He was captured fleeing Tora Bora in December 2001. When he was shipped to Guantánamo two months later, officials had not yet realized he was the presumed 20th hijacker. For weeks, he refused to give his name. But in July 2002, the feds matched his fingerprints to those of the man who had been deported from Orlando and marked him for intensive interrogation. Al-Qahtani, explains Pentagon spokesman DiRita, was “a particularly well-placed, well-connected terrorist who was believed capable of unlocking an enormous amount of specific and general insights into 9/11, al-Qaeda operations and ongoing planning for future attacks.” But the initial questioning by the FBI went poorly. “We were getting nothing from him,” a senior Pentagon official says. “He had been trained to resist direct questioning. And what works in a Chicago police precinct doesn’t work in war.”

That’s where things stood in late November 2002, when the log obtained by TIME begins. At that point, tag teams of interrogators are putting al-Qahtani through a daily routine designed to drain the detainee of his autonomy. They wake him every morning at 4 and sometimes question him until midnight. Each day — and sometimes every hour — is shaped around standard Army interrogation techniques, with code names like Fear Up/Harsh, Pride/Ego Down, the Futility Approach and the Circumstantial Evidence Theme. Each day, the interrogators seem to be trying to find those that work best. They promise better treatment; they show him pictures of 9/11 victims, particularly children and the elderly. They talk about God’s will and al-Qahtani’s guilt. They tell him that he failed on his mission and hint that other comrades have been captured and are talking about his role in the plot. They play on his emotions, saying he should talk if he ever wants to see his family or friends or homeland again.

For days, al-Qahtani stonewalls his handlers and maintains that he went to the U.S. to get into the used-car business. “You are working with the devil,” he tells his captors. The interrogators respond by forcing him to stand or sit immobile on a metal chair. He tries to deflect questions about where he went in Afghanistan with answers apparently drawn directly from an al-Qaeda handbook, given to terrorists, about how to resist interrogations. When al-Qahtani resorts to a handbook answer, his handlers reply that it amounts to another admission of guilt.

Yet in other ways, al-Qahtani emerges as an innocent abroad — uneducated, almost from another era. He asks whether the sun revolves around the earth. He wonders about dinosaurs and is told of their history and demise. He confides that he would like to marry someday — apparently not realizing how unlikely that goal now is.

The first break in al-Qahtani ‘s facade comes with a long-delayed call of nature. When a hunger strike he has launched fizzles, he starts refusing water. That becomes a battle of wills — and teeth. Al-Qahtani quickly becomes so dehydrated that medical corpsmen forcibly administer fluids by IV drip. He tries to fight them off with his hands and is restrained. Another time, al-Qahtani tries to rip the IV needle out; when he is cuffed to his chair, he turns his head and bites the IV line completely in two. He is then strapped down and given an undisclosed amount of fluids. An hour or so later, around 9:40 a.m., al-Qahtani tells his guards that he would be willing to talk if he is allowed to urinate. The log notes he is given 3 1/2 bags of IV fluid. He starts to moan and asks again to be allowed to relieve himself. Yes, but first he must answer questions:

Interrogator: Who do you work for?

Al-Qahtani: Al-Qaeda

Interrogator: Who was your leader?

Al-Qahtani: Osama bin Laden

Interrogator: Why did you go to Orlando?

Al-Qahtani: I wasn’t told the mission

Interrogator: Who was with you on the plane?

Al-Qahtani: I was by myself

That answer frustrates the interrogator — You’re wasting my time, he says — and when al-Qahtani requests his promised bathroom break, he is told to go in his pants. Humiliatingly, he does. The log notes 30 minutes later, “He is beginning to understand the futility of his situation … He is much closer to compliance and cooperation than at the beginning of the operation.”

But things appear to move slowly after that. It is not clear from the log’s terse entries that increased pressure is leading to new disclosures. The interrogators keep juggling techniques — giving extra sleep some days, offering a home-cooked Arab meal on another (al-Qahtani refuses it). Later that day, when a video of the destruction of the Twin Towers is played, al-Qahtani becomes so violent, he has to be restrained. “We can’t say, Because we did this, we got that,” a senior Pentagon official says. “If we did know what worked, we’d know exactly which pressure points to apply and when.” Even al-Qahtani seems to understand that: “If you interrogate me in the right way and the right position,” he taunts his questioners, “you might find some answers.”

A secondary battle appears to be under way over Ramadan. At various points during the Muslim holy month, al-Qahtani claims to be either on a hunger strike, refusing all food and water, or fasting during daylight hours, as Ramadan requires. According to the log, the interrogators tell al-Qahtani he cannot pray — a religious obligation — unless he disregards another by accepting water. So he declines to pray.

Al-Qahtani’s resilience under pressure in the fall of 2002 led top officials at Gitmo to petition Washington for more muscular “counter resistance strategies.” On Dec. 2, Rumsfeld approved 16 of 19 stronger coercive methods. Now the interrogators could use stress strategies like standing for prolonged periods, isolation for as long as 30 days, removal of clothing, forced shaving of facial hair, playing on “individual phobias” (such as dogs) and “mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with the finger and light pushing.” According to the log, al-Qahtani experienced several of those over the next five weeks. The techniques Rumsfeld balked at included “use of a wet towel or dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation.” “Our Armed Forces are trained,” a Pentagon memo on the changes read, “to a standard of interrogation that reflects a tradition of restraint.” Nevertheless, the log shows that interrogators poured bottles of water on al-Qahtani’s head when he refused to drink. Interrogators called this game “Drink Water or Wear It.”

After the new measures are approved, the mood in al-Qahtani’s interrogation booth changes dramatically. The interrogation sessions lengthen. The quizzing now starts at midnight, and when Detainee 063 dozes off, interrogators rouse him by dripping water on his head or playing Christina Aguilera music. According to the log, his handlers at one point perform a puppet show “satirizing the detainee’s involvement with al-Qaeda.” He is taken to a new interrogation booth, which is decorated with pictures of 9/11 victims, American flags and red lights. He has to stand for the playing of the U.S. national anthem. His head and beard are shaved. He is returned to his original interrogation booth. A picture of a 9/11 victim is taped to his trousers. Al-Qahtani repeats that he will “not talk until he is interrogated the proper way.” At 7 a.m. on Dec. 4, after a 12-hour, all-night session, he is put to bed for a four-hour nap.

Over the next few days, al-Qahtani is subjected to a drill known as Invasion of Space by a Female, and he becomes especially agitated by the close physical presence of a woman. Then, around 2 p.m. on Dec. 6, comes another small breakthrough. He asks his handlers for some paper. “I will tell the truth,” he says. “I am doing this to get out of here.” He finally explains how he got to Afghanistan in the first place and how he met with bin Laden. In return, the interrogators honor requests from him to have a blanket and to turn off the air conditioner. Soon enough, the pressure ratchets up again. Various strategies of intimidation are employed anew. The log reveals that a dog is present, but no details are given beyond a hazy reference to a disagreement between the military police and the dog handler. Agitated, al-Qahtani takes back the story he told the day before about meeting bin Laden.

But a much more serious problem develops on Dec. 7: a medical corpsman reports that al-Qahtani is becoming seriously dehydrated, the result of his refusal to take water regularly. He is given an IV drip, and a doctor is summoned. An unprecedented 24-hour time out is called, but even as al-Qahtani is put under a doctor’s care, music is played to “prevent detainee from sleeping.” Nine hours later, a medical corpsman checks al-Qahtani’s pulse and finds it “unusually slow.” An electrocardiogram is administered by a doctor, and after al-Qahtani is transferred to a hospital, a CT scan is performed. A second doctor is consulted. Al-Qahtani’s heartbeat is regular but slow: 35 beats a minute. He is placed in isolation and hooked up to a heart monitor.

The next day, a radiologist is flown in from Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station in Puerto Rico, 600 miles away, to read the CT scan. The log reports, “No anomalies were found.” Nonetheless, al-Qahtani is given an ultrasound for blood clots. For the first time since the log began, al-Qahtani is given an entire day to sleep. The next evening, the log reports that his medical “checks are all good.” Al-Qahtani is “hooded, shackled and restrained in a litter” and transported back to Camp X-Ray in an ambulance.

Over the next month, the interrogators experiment with other tactics. They strip-search him and briefly make him stand nude. They tell him to bark like a dog and growl at pictures of terrorists. They hang pictures of scantily clad women around his neck. A female interrogator so annoys al-Qahtani that he tells his captors he wants to commit suicide and asks for a crayon to write a will. At one stage, an Arabic-speaking serviceman, posing as a fellow detainee, is brought to Camp X-Ray for a short stay in an effort to gain al-Qahtani’s confidence. The log reports that al-Qahtani makes several comments to interrogators that imply he has a big story to tell, but interrogators report that he seems either too scared or simply unwilling, to tell it. On Jan. 10, 2003, al-Qahtani says he knows nothing of terrorists but volunteers to return to the gulf states and act as a double agent for the U.S. in exchange for his freedom. Five days later, Rumsfeld’s harsher measures are revoked after military lawyers in Washington raised questions about their use and efficacy.

It’s unclear how al-Qhatani’s interrogation proceeded from that point and whether it is still continuing. Senior Pentagon officials told TIME that some of his most valuable confessions came not during the period covered in the log or as a result of any particular technique but when al-Qahtani was presented with evidence coughed up by others in detention, especially Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or KSM, the alleged mastermind of 9/11. The intelligence take was more cumulative than anything else, says a Pentagon official. Once al-Qahtani realized KSM was talking, the official speculates, al-Qahtani may have felt he had the green light to follow suit.

Al-Qahtani has never been charged with a crime, has no lawyer and remains in detention at Guantánamo. But his case is already the subject of several probes in Washington. A year ago, a senior FBI counterterrorism official wrote the Pentagon complaining of abuses that FBI agents said they witnessed at the naval base. The agents reported seeing or hearing of “highly aggressive interrogation techniques.” The letter singles out the treatment of al-Qahtani in September and October of 2002 — before the log obtained by TIME begins — saying a dog was used “in an aggressive manner to intimidate Detainee #63.” The FBI letter said al-Qahtani had been “subjected to intense isolation for over three months” and “was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in a cell covered with a sheet for hours on end).” The Justice Department and the Pentagon have opened separate investigations into the charges. A Pentagon official tells TIME he expects that many of those charges will prove to be unfounded.

Interrogators eventually compelled al-Qahtani to focus on his fellow detainees at Guantánamo. In that process, he implicated more than 20 other Gitmo prisoners as members of al-Qaeda or associates of bin Laden’s, according to the Los Angeles Times. A military board has since used al-Qahtani’s identification as a factor in prolonging the detention of some of them. Whether he has won more favorable treatment in return for his cooperation is unknown. But at least one of those he named, a Yemeni, is now claiming in a U.S. federal court that al-Qahtani’s statements about him are unreliable because they “appear to have been obtained by the use of torture.”

President Bush has said the U.S. would apply principals consistent with the Geneva Conventions to “unlawful combatants,” subject to military necessity, at Guantánamo and elsewhere. The Pentagon argues that al-Qahtani’s treatment was always “humane.” But the Geneva Conventions forbid any “outrage on personal dignity.” Eric Freedman, a constitutional-law expert and consultant in some of the growing number of federal lawsuits challenging U.S. treatment of these detainees, says, “If the techniques described in this interrogation log are not outrages to personal dignity, then words have no meaning.” Then again, in the war on terrorism, the personal dignity of a fanatic trained for mass murder may be an inevitable casualty.

— With reporting by Brian Bennett, Timothy J. Burger, Sally B. Donnelly and Viveca Novak/Washington

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