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Detainee says he lied to CIA in harsh interrogations

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, told the U.S. military that he made up stories, documents show. The news could intensify the debate over interrogation practices.

June 16, 2009|Julian E. Barnes and Greg Miller

WASHINGTON — Self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed told U.S. military officials that he had lied to the CIA after being abused, according to documents made public Monday. The claim is likely to intensify the debate over whether harsh interrogation techniques generated accurate information.

Mohammed made the assertion during hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was transferred in 2006 after being held at secret CIA sites since his capture in 2003.

"I make up stories," Mohammed said, describing in broken English an interrogation probably administered by the CIA concerning the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. "Where is he? I don't know. Then, he torture me," Mohammed said of his interrogator. "Then I said, 'Yes, he is in this area.' "

Mohammed also appeared to say that he had fingered people he did not know as being Al Qaeda members in order to avoid abusive treatment. Although there is no way to corroborate his statements, Mohammed is one of the militants whom the CIA repeatedly subjected to the simulated-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The newly released information could amplify calls for the Obama administration to make public more details about the treatment of terrorism suspects or allow a broader inquiry into the George W. Bush administration's interrogation policies. Monday's disclosure represented a rare allegation by a detainee that he had lied while being subjected to harsh practices.

A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, said Mohammed's statements raised questions about the effectiveness of the CIA's interrogation program.

"It underscores the unreliability of statements obtained by torture," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU's National Security Project.

The CIA, however, took issue with the description of its interrogation techniques as torture and the assertion that they were not useful.

"The CIA plainly has a very different take on its past interrogation practices -- what they were and what they weren't -- and on the need to protect properly classified national security information," said Paul Gimigliano, an agency spokesman.

The bulk of the documents released Monday, consisting of transcripts of court hearings held at Guantanamo Bay for accused Al Qaeda members, had been previously released. But the Bush administration classified many parts of them, including detainees' allegations that they were abused while in CIA custody. The re-released transcripts remained heavily redacted, containing long passages of blacked-out text.

The ACLU expressed disappointment that President Obama, who has pledged greater openness, had decided to withhold so much of the information.

"The public has a right to know what took place in the CIA's secret prisons," Jaffer said, adding that the ACLU would continue to press in court for completely unclassified versions of transcripts from the Guantanamo Bay tribunals.

In addition to Mohammed's allegation that he had offered false information after being tortured, the documents contained some new details about the detention of terrorism suspects.

A newly declassified portion of Mohammed's transcript showed that the CIA apparently told him that he had no constitutional rights.

"This is what I understand he told me: You are not American and you are not on American soil," Mohammed said in the military hearing. "So you cannot ask about the Constitution."

Ben Wizner, the lead ACLU lawyer in the lawsuit seeking an unclassified version of the transcripts, said the fact that the CIA had previously sought to classify that statement was extraordinary.

"Why would the Bush administration suppress [Mohammed's] statement that he was told by the CIA that he was not protected by the Constitution?" Wizner said. "This was suppressed to avoid embarrassment."

The newly declassified material provided little new information on the treatment of another detainee, accused Al Qaeda facilitator Abu Zubaydah. He was captured in a violent raid on a Pakistani compound in March 2002.

On one page, the CIA declassified two paragraphs in which Abu Zubaydah complained about a lack of treatment for injuries he sustained in the shootout, including the loss of a testicle.

"They did not care about my injuries that they inflicted to my eye, to my stomach, to my bladder, and my left thigh and my reproductive organs," Abu Zubaydah said.

He went on to complain that he was "losing my masculinity. Even my beard is falling out, not from injuries but from the lack of treatment."

Wizner said the techniques the CIA used to interrogate Al Qaeda suspects were made public when the Obama administration this year released Justice Department legal memos authorizing them, so there was no reason to keep the detainees' testimony secret.

"There is only one explanation for the continued suppression. It is not to protect national security, it is to protect the CIA from accountability," Wizner said.

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