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For two detainees who told what they knew, Guantanamo becomes a gilded cage
"It's not looking good," said the presiding officer.
"No," replied Slahi, "it's not looking good at all."
Slahi had just arrived at Guantanamo when Binalshibh was captured in Pakistan, and some of the Yemeni's testimony, relayed to the military, suggested that their new prisoner was much more important than previously thought.
"I did see this dude Ramzi Binalshibh," Slahi acknowledged in the colloquial English he has picked up at Guantanamo. He explained that Binalshibh and two of the men who would later pilot planes on Sept. 11, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, had spent the night at his house in Germany. But he denied Binalshibh's claims that he had dispatched the group to Afghanistan, and said he later passed a polygraph challenging Binalshibh's account.
By mid-2003, the military saw Slahi as a high-value detainee who was to be subject to a special interrogation plan personally approved by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
A Senate investigation found that Slahi was subjected to steadily escalating abuse. In addition to receiving death threats, he was told, falsely, that his mother had been detained and would be placed among the male detainees at Guantanamo unless he started talking. He was deprived of sleep, exposed to "variable lighting patterns" and blasted with rock music, including Drowning Pool's "Bodies," with its chorus of "Let the bodies hit the floor!"
In late August, Slahi was forced to wear blacked-out goggles and taken on a boat ride. He said Arabs with Egyptian and Jordanian accents beat him, threatened him with torture and argued over which country would get him. Slahi, who apparently believed he would be killed, urinated on himself, according to former military officials.
Senate investigators found that a "contemporaneous document suggested that the interrogation may have begun affecting Slahi's mental state." An interrogator said Slahi was "hearing voices." By September 2003, the Mauritanian was moved into one of Guantanamo's smaller facilities, Camp Echo.
At some point, he began to provide information that helped officials chart connections among Islamist radicals across Europe.
An old soldier
Unlike Slahi, Sawah was forthcoming from the start. A skilled bombmaker who had fought in Afghanistan, he had plenty to tell the Americans and eventually became "the source of 150 first-rate information reports," according to one former military intelligence official.
"He was an old-soldier type who'd just had a bellyful," the official said. "Right after he got to Guantanamo, he told the interrogators he'd had it."
Sawah, a geologist by training, was in Greece when he saw what he described as a video depicting Serb atrocities against Muslims. A former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's Islamist opposition group, he decided to join the fight in Bosnia. He married a local woman and fought in the army with other foreign mujaheddin.