By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005
The U.S. military staged the interrogations of terrorism suspects for members of Congress and other officials visiting the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to make it appear the government was obtaining valuable intelligence, a former Army translator who worked there claims in a new book scheduled for release Monday.
Former Army Sgt. Erik Saar said the military chose detainees for the mock interrogations who previously had been cooperative and instructed them to repeat what they had told interrogators in earlier sessions, according to an interview with the CBS television program "60 Minutes," which is slated to air Sunday night.
"They would find a detainee that they knew to have been cooperative," Saar told CBS. "They would ask the interrogator to go back over the same information," he said, calling it "a fictitious world" created for the visitors.
Saar worked as a translator at Guantanamo from December 2002 to June 2003. During that time, several members of Congress reported visiting the base, but military officials said they do not know precisely how many toured it.
Saar also told CBS, and claims in his upcoming book, "Inside the Wire," that a few dozen of the more than 750 men who have been held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay were terrorists, and that little valuable information has been obtained from them.
A spokesman for the U.S. military's Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo Bay operations, dismissed the allegation of mock interrogations.
"I can say that we do not stage interrogations for VIP visits at Guantanamo," said Col. David McWilliams. "I don't want to characterize or comment on what Sergeant Saar believes. He's written his book."
A Defense Department official familiar with interrogations said Saar would not be privy to interview strategies. He noted that interrogators often ask the same questions in separate sessions to check a detainee's account.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she was "initially impressed" by interrogations she saw on a tour of Guantanamo Bay in February 2004 with members of the Homeland Security Committee. The delegation watched through mirrored glass as interrogators spoke in conversational tones and rewarded cooperative detainees with ice cream. Now, she believes, "we were duped."
"The amount and depth of the torture that's been alleged and corroborated leaves no doubt in my mind that what we saw was a staged interrogation," Norton said.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has led the legal challenge of detainees' imprisonment and alleged abusive interrogation techniques, said Saar's claims support lawyers' suspicions that the official tours of Guantanamo were phony.
"They couldn't show people what they were really doing, because what they were really doing was illegal and inhumane," Ratner said. "It's such a fraud. It reminds me of the special concentration camps set up in World War II. They would take the Red Cross there to see there was an orchestra and all sorts of nice things."
Saar also alleges in his book that he witnessed female interrogators use sexual humiliation and taunting in an effort to get detainees to talk. The general tactics he described were corroborated by Army officials, who have acknowledged disciplining two female interrogators for such acts. Numerous detainees have alleged they were victims of similar sexually suggestive interrogations.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.