Page 2 of 2   <      

U.S. May Have Taped Visits to Detainees

U.S. officials required the foreign delegations to share their final reports from such visits, as well as any recordings the foreign agents made themselves. A U.S. official also witnessed the conversations, often from within the same room.

"The value we saw was that these guys would know their nationals and could get information better than we could," said a U.S. official familiar with the visits. "We were pretty green in this area at that time. We also wanted to know what was going on in the room, because we were on the hook for the well-being of everyone that came in there."

Every country that has received a detainee transfer from Guantanamo Bay at one point visited the facility to identify its nationals and to question them from an intelligence and law enforcement perspective, two U.S. officials said.

Some countries visited numerous times, including Bahrain, which sent a delegation in April 2002 and then about once a year after that, according to Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a lawyer who represented six Bahraini nationals and described the meetings as tense.

"There was nothing comforting about the visits," he said. "I don't remember anyone talking about knowing they were being videotaped in those meetings, but if you have the Khadr videotape and this statement, that seems pretty clear. The question is: Did the U.S. destroy everything?"

In 2005, lawyers representing the detainees obtained an order from a judge in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia forcing the government to preserve all evidence of possible coercion, including videotapes. After the CIA acknowledged last year that it destroyed tapes of detainee interrogations, Pentagon officials said they were continuing to preserve evidence in the case of Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah, a Yemeni detainee at Guantanamo Bay, but have never specified what evidence they have.

Detainees have for years reported being threatened by their home governments in interrogations at the facility, some to the point of trying to commit suicide after the meetings for fear of having to return home to face possible torture or death. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented hundreds of Guantanamo Bay detainees, has criticized the U.S. government, saying that it ushers "interrogators from recognized human rights abusing regimes onto the U.S. military base" and that it allows threats and abuse "with the active involvement of U.S. forces."

The lawyers have vowed to push for evidence of such abuse at the Supreme Court-mandated habeas corpus hearings that are scheduled to begin soon.

George Brent Mickum IV, a Washington lawyer who represents Guantanamo Bay detainees, said he has learned from a former interrogator at the facility that U.S. officials kept an index listing all the videotapes of the foreign delegations. He also said that one of his clients -- Bisher al-Rawi, who was returned to England from Guantanamo Bay -- was interviewed by Britain's MI-5 intelligence service at least five times at the facility, conversations Mickum says would show that Rawi should not have been imprisoned.

"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that these tapes did in fact exist and that, contrary to what the military says, it was absolutely SOP," Mickum said. "I would be shocked if they had not been destroyed."

Zachary Katznelson, legal director of Reprieve, which represents 32 Guantanamo Bay detainees, said that foreign governments have threatened some of his clients and that he would be interested in seeing the interrogation tapes as potential evidence that the United States has been complicit in sending detainees to countries that are known to torture.

"I think there's no question, if you invite someone in, and they threaten them, the person who invited them in should be held accountable," Katznelson said. "We will request any and all videotapes by U.S. and foreign intelligence services to find out what was being done to them and what threats were made against them."

One of Reprieve's clients, Hisham Sliti, a Tunisian who remains detained, told the organization that the Tunisian government sent three people to interrogate him and that they threatened him with "water torture in the barrel" upon his return.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

<       2

© 2008 The Washington Post Company