The president is currently repeating his belief that torture is always wrong and yet his own administration has just continued the prosecution of a Gitmo detainee we have long known was innocent. Obama has indeed ended torture going forward and deserves mad props for that; but he has so balked at holding America accountable for the past that he has come close at times to being complicit in the war crimes of his predecessor. The case of Fouad al-Rabiah is one such instance. It's such an appalling story, such a betrayal of the American idea, that it still beggars belief. I've written about this on the Dish before but my column today tries to sum it up in one digestible piece:
We know that an American interrogator, operating under the authority of the US government, said the following words to a detainee:
“There is nothing against you. But there is no innocent person here. So, you should confess to something so you can be charged and sentenced and serve your sentence and then go back to your family and country, because you will not leave this place innocent.”
That’s from page 41 of the court memorandum and order, releasing al-Rabiah. Al-Rabiah was captured in Pakistan in December 2001. He had an unlikely history for a top Al-Qaeda commander and strategist. He had spent 20 years at a desk job for Kuwait Airways. As the journalist Andy Worthington has painstakingly reported and the court reiterated he was also a humanitarian volunteer for Muslim refugees. Yet informants had described him as an Al-Qaeda supporter and confidant of Osama Bin Laden, and before he knew what was happening to him, he was whisked away to Guantanamo.
The informants’ accounts were riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. In her ruling, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly noted that “the only consistency with respect to [these] allegations is that they repeatedly change over time”. The one incriminating statement was given by another inmate after he had been subjected to sleep deprivation and coercion. So the only option left to prove that al-Rabiah had not been captured by mistake was his own confession.
The interrogators’ notes, forced into the open by the court, gave the game away. In the judge’s words, although “al-Rabiah’s interrogators ultimately extracted confessions from him”, they “never believed his confessions, based on the comments they included in their interrogation reports”. In fact, “the evidence in the record during this period consists mainly of an assessment made by an intelligence analyst that alRabiah should not have been detained”.
That CIA analyst, moreover, had told the justice department this was his judgment. Rather than withdraw the prosecution, however, the decision was made to get al-Rabiah to confess. He didn’t and wouldn’t. So he was subject to sleep deprivation and other unspecified “interrogation techniques” that led him to suffer “from serious depression, losing weight in a substantial way, and very stressed because of the constant moves, deprived of sleep and worried about the consequences for his children”.