By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006
A previously undisclosed Pentagon report concluded that the three terrorism suspects held at a brig in South Carolina were subjected to months of isolation, and it warned that their "unique" solitary confinement could be viewed as violating U.S. detention standards.
According to a summary of the 2004 report obtained by The Washington Post, interrogators attempted to deprive one detainee, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and former student in Peoria, Ill., of sleep and religious comfort by taking away his Koran, warm food, mattresses and pillow as part of an interrogation plan approved by the high-level Joint Forces Command.
Interrogators also prevented the International Committee of the Red Cross from visiting at least one detainee, according to the report, which noted evidence of other unspecified, unauthorized interrogation techniques.
The report by the Navy's inspector general was presented to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in May 2004 and was declassified in 2005. It was the first to raise the question of mistreatment of alleged enemy combatants inside the United States.
Its details about conditions at the Navy brig in 2004 could prove critical to the fate of two of the "enemy combatant" detainees who spent years in the prison: Marri, the only one of the three who remains there and is facing the prospect of a special military trial, and Jose Padilla, a Brooklyn-born U.S. citizen now facing criminal charges in Miami.
Attorneys for Padilla have argued in recent court filings that any abusive interrogation methods used on their client may mean that his statements to government agents were coerced and, therefore, inadmissible in his trial. He is accused of engaging in a conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and provide material support to terrorists abroad.
The attorneys told a federal judge in Florida yesterday that they have a right to learn about those interrogation methods, and they recently sought to subpoena Brig. Gen. Daryl D. Thiessen, the deputy inspector general who made the findings after inspecting the brig, and other senior military officers who worked at the prison. The attorneys said Padilla spent 1,307 days in a 9-by-7-foot cell in an isolated unit, was often chained to the ground for hours by his wrists and torso, and was kept awake at night by guards using bright lights and loud noises.
Prosecutors asked the judge to quash the subpoenas, arguing that Padilla's attorneys are making "meritless" and "sensationalist" claims to turn the court's attention away from his alleged misconduct. In previous filings, the government decried the "absurdity of Padilla's assertion" that he was abused, noting that the government was "conscientious enough to tend to his toothache."
Marri remains at the brig awaiting an appeals court ruling on whether he will be tried in a U.S. court or by a military commission, as the government requested last month. He sued the government last year over the conditions of his confinement, alleging that for 16 months in 2003 and 2004, he had been barred from contact with anyone but guards delivering food, causing his mental state to deteriorate.
Thiessen wrote in his summary that the Joint Forces Command had approved that "one detainee in Charleston has Koran, mattress, and pillow removed and is fed cold MRES as part of interrogation plan." He also noted concerns about isolation: "Limited number and unique status of detainees in Charleston precludes interaction with other detainees. Argument could be made that this constitutes isolation."
Extended solitary confinement can be considered a form of inhumane treatment. In 2003, Rumsfeld specified the use of isolation as an interrogation tactic, but he cautioned that its use required detailed plans and approvals from superiors for the length of time. His memo warned that use of isolation for more than 30 days was atypical, and that nations that consider detainees subject to prisoner-of-war protections may view this technique as "inconsistent with the requirements of Geneva [Article] III."
"What you're describing confirms what we said in our complaint," said Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice and an attorney for Marri, when asked to review the summary findings. "There were periods of time when al-Marri felt he was losing his mind. He went months without hearing a human voice. . . . And these weren't rogue officers, but it was part of a deliberate violation of the laws of the U.S. by the top levels of the administration."
Padilla's attorneys -- Orlando do Campo, Andrew Patel and Michael Caruso -- did not return calls seeking comment or declined to comment. Federal prosecutors also declined to comment. A hearing is expected soon on whether Padilla's attorneys can question military officials about his treatment and the conditions at the brig.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, said multiple reviews of detention operations have not found policies that condoned abuse and have led to more consistent policies to prevent abuse.
"The reviews have resulted in numerous recommendations which have been implemented and have improved our detention operations," he said. "The Department of Defense policy is clear: We treat detainees humanely."
Thiessen's report is part of a larger review by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III, then the Navy's inspector general. Rumsfeld ordered the wide-ranging military investigation to determine whether any interrogation policy for terrorism suspects had caused detainee abuse in U.S. military detention facilities.
The Church report presented to Congress in March 2005 concluded that there was no deliberate high-level policy that led to the numerous cases of mistreatment. Instead, it blamed inept leadership at low levels and confusion over changing interrogation rules.
Church focused on the conditions for foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay. But the details of what Thiessen found in the Charleston brig were not mentioned. When asked, high-ranking military officers asserted that the brig fared well in the review.
"The brig here has a good record, and the people who run it are well trained," then-Secretary of the Navy Gordon England told reporters in 2004.
A third prisoner at the brig, Yaser Hamdi, was released in 2004 after the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not hold him indefinitely without a trial, and after he agreed to U.S. conditions that he go to Saudi Arabia and give up his U.S. citizenship.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.