Probe of Al-Qaeda Leader's Handling Sought
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Two senators who observed last week's closed military proceedings against al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed called for an investigation into allegations that the accused planner of the Sept. 11 attacks was physically abused while in CIA custody.
Mohammed told the tribunal last Saturday that he had been mistreated during three years in CIA custody before his transfer to Guantanamo Bay, and he submitted a written description of the alleged abuse. The military panel immediately classified the submission and redacted from transcripts details of Mohammed's treatment in the CIA's secret prison program.
According to one portion of the transcript made public earlier this week, however, Mohammed told the panel of three unnamed military officers that his children had been held for four months and abused during his incarceration.
"Allegations of prisoner mistreatment must be taken seriously and properly investigated. To do otherwise would reflect poorly on our nation," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a committee member, said in a statement issued yesterday.
The military officer who presided over the hearing promised to forward the allegations for investigation, and a U.S. official said that they had been sent to the CIA's inspector general.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that his deputy, Gordon England, was present at Mohammed's hearing last Saturday at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Gates, who was returning from Central Command headquarters in Florida yesterday, told reporters on his flight that he had read the redacted transcript of Mohammed's hearing and had spoken to England about it. Gates said England described Mohammed as calm, giving laconic answers to the tribunal before speaking politely of the terrorist acts he claims to have committed.
"There was no doubt in [England's] mind that this guy meant every word he said," Gates said. "It really was a fresh reminder of the kind of threat that we're facing." Gates said he did not know whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty should the case go to a military commission, but he said, "One would hope so."
The CIA maintains that it does not torture prisoners but has refused to describe what acts it considers to be torture and has not divulged the interrogation techniques it uses against detainees.
Levin and Graham did not challenge the secret nature of Mohammed's hearing or the classification of his allegations of abuse. But they, along with Gates and others, said they were convinced that he was telling the truth during the hearing.
Mohammed claimed responsibility for more than 30 terrorism plots, including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whom Mohammed said he beheaded.
"It was apparent to us," the senators wrote in their statement, that Mohammed "wanted to use the tribunal process to detail his role in 9/11 and many other terror plots and to record for history the part he has played in a war that he has unabashedly waged." Mohammed "views himself as a warrior, motivated by religious teachings, and seeks his place in history."
The two senators helped write legislation codifying the Combatant Status Review Tribunals. Yesterday they offered no new details on the content of the hearing but said they were impressed with "the professionalism and demeanor of the tribunal." Mohammed was denied an attorney for the hearing, which was called to establish whether he qualifies as an enemy combatant. Evidence was withheld from him, and the military panel rejected his request to call two witnesses -- also at Guantanamo -- to corroborate assertions that nearly half of the military's case against him is false.
"The true test of the CSRT process is not a case in which the detainee admits the allegations against him, it is a case in which the detainee disputes those allegations. Judicial review of the tribunals is ongoing," the two senators wrote. "We will continue to review the process and will explore possible ways to improve this process through Congressional action," they wrote.