The Story of Mohammed Al-Qahtani

I’ve mentioned high-value terrorists. I wrote about Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or Mohammed Al-Qahtani (most of this story comes from Jane Mayer’s book, The Dark Side). In August 2001, prior to September 11, Al-Qahtani arrived at the Orlando airport in Florida.  He had $2800 in cash and no luggage.  He came here on a one-way ticket from Saudi Arabia and was refused entry into the country.  Further detective work, after 9/11, showed that Mohammed Atta was waiting for him in the parking lot.  Al Qahtani was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan in December of 2001.  He was in United States custody for almost 7 months before he was fingerprinted and identified as an Al Qaeda operative.  He was the 20th hijacker.  He was at the famed Malaysia meeting in 2000. (Why we didn’t get better intelligence at the Malaysia meeting is still a mystery to me.  Why we allow the Malaysian intelligence agency to take the lead is mind-boggling.)

FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, who interrogated Abu Zubaydah before he was taken away by the CIA, was called into question Al-Qahtani.  He got a lot of information in a short period time.  He even identified a sleeper cell located in Chicago.  This wasn’t enough information for US officials, who “knew” that Al Qahtani was holding out.  Tougher measures were needed.  My question is why would officials assume that a low-level screw-up who’d been captured twice in less than six months would have a treasure trove of information?  I’m just asking.  It is clear that there was a lot of outside pressure being placed on US officials.  In April of 2002 there was a terrorist attack on a synagogue in Tunisia.  The US Consulate in Karachi was attacked in June.

It is clear that towards the end of 2002, the FBI backed out of the picture.  There’s a steady stream of information from Washington to Guantánamo and back to Washington.  Donald Rumsfeld and the commander of Guantánamo Major General Dunlevy had what was described as “close and constant contact.”  By November of 2002, the gloves indeed came off.  For 48 of the next 54 days, Al-Qahtani was only allowed to sleep for four hours a day.  Besides being stripped naked, he was strip-searched and forced to undergo enemas in front of females.  He was intentionally touched by females, making it impossible for him to pray (you can’t pray if you’re unclean and you’re unclean if you’re touched by female).  He was forced to stand so long his feet and hands swelled.  He needed to have his hands and feet bandaged and elevated to treat the painful swelling.  At one point, he was treated like a dog, which included being placed in a leash and forced to jump around.  There was more degrading treatment.  He became so dehydrated at one point the physician had to start a special IV.

What did we learn from these harsh interrogations of Al-Qahtani?  Nothing.  The process was slow and time-consuming. I’m forced to scratch my head and ask the question, “Why?”  We learned nothing.  We should’ve known he knew nothing.  Now my question is, how do we try this guy? How do we put him in jail, where he belongs, for the rest of his life?