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The end and the beginning

posted January 11, 18:19, 2010.

“I think on the left wing of the Democratic party, there are some people who believe that we really tortured”
Dick Cheney, January 2009

Since November, this site has been republishing the interrogation log of Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Guantanamo Bay’s Detainee 063. Today, January the 11th, it reached the end of the log.

The log is not, however, a full account of Al-Qahtani’s time at Guantanamo. The camp remains open, and Al-Qahtani continues to be held there – the last entry of the log is not the end. And the first entry is not the beginning.

“#63’s behavior has changed significantly”

On 23 November 2002 at 02:25, when Al-Qahtani was being bolted to the floor in his interrogation booth at Camp X-Ray, he had been in American custody for almost a year. In December 2001 he was captured in Afghanistan; in July 2002, after his fingerprints linked him to a pre 9-11 attempt to enter the US, he was marked as a prospect for more aggressive interrogation.

If we want some detail of the months between that and the beginning of the log, there is this, from a draft interrogation plan for Detainee 063, dated 22 November 2002:

#63’s behavior has changed significantly during his three months of isolation. He spends much of his day covered by a sheet, either crouched in the comer of his cell or hunched on his knees on top of his bed… His cell has no exterior windows, and because it is continuously lit, he is prevented from orientating himself as to time of day. Recently, he was observed by a hidden video camera having conversations with non-existent people.

A report by an FBI agent describes seeing in either “September or October … a canine … used in an aggressive manner to intimidate detainee __ after he had been subjected to intense isolation for over three months.” According to this report:

By late November, the detainee was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in the corner of a cell covered with a sheet for hours on end).

And the draft interrogation plan records that Detainee 063 “reported hearing unusual sounds which he believes are evil spirits, including Satan.” The authors of the plan leave open the possibility that he may be feigning the hallucinations but don’t doubt that Al-Qahtani is “hungry for human interaction”.

(For more information on the draft plan and FBI report, and links to the documents themselves, see this Stephen Soldz article.)

“The detainee bent over and bit the IV tube completely in two.”

In a cell clinging to his blanket, the lights always on, with no windows or way to know the time, having been denied human contact for months, at the tail end of his senses, secretly observed talking to people who aren’t there: this is the state of Al-Qahtani when his hood is removed in the interrogation booth on November 23.

This is his state before the log begins, before it records: Detainee states he’s on hunger strike, asks to pray and is refused, The Detainee began to cry, agreed to drink water in return for being allowed to prayMedical personnel checked vital signs.

Before Detainee was informed that we would not let him die, wrap was put on detainee’s feet to combat the swelling, The detainee bent over and bit the IV tube completely in two, (SGT R) is such a kind-hearted guy, he’ll let detainee sit down, but detainee will stand again if he falls asleep, Detainee was on the verge of breaking, his feet have swollen due to excess fluid, Detainee goes to bathroom and is walked around to stay awake, introduced detainee to the victims of 9/11, Detainee’s feet appear more swollen than yesterday, Control said “Have you earned prayer? I know you have a lot to ask forgiveness for, but I already told you that you have to earn it.”

These all so far from the first week of the log, and still before “My shame causes me to look at the floor” was written on the floor in the interrogation booth, Detainee replied “I don’t know” when asked the question “What is a normal life?”, approaches employed were Pride and Ego down, Fear Up Harsh, and Invasion of Space by a Female, told that we would not allow him to die, He said that he would like to marry someday, Tried to stand him up to keep him awake but was unable to stay awake, “invasion of personal space” approach, “futility” and “pride and ego down” approaches and Lead taped picture of 3 year old victim over detainees heart and Lead compares Pearl Harbor to 9-11, asks detainee how bad he thinks the sessions will get and I was forehead to forehead with the detainee and he stated that he would rather be beaten with an electrical wire than to have me constantly in his personal space. Also, he stated that he would rather die at my hands than to be subjected to my invasion of his personal space. He stated that this is unbearable to him, my being in his personal space and Rules included “drink water or wear it” and on for the rest of the fifty days of the log, for all the twenty–hour days, for the untired interrogators in shifts, for all the accumulated small pressures pushing together against a man’s mind, a mind that had already clung to a blanket and hungered for human contact and imagined voices.

Al-Qahtani, Detainee 063, suffered this accumulation, the combined effect of small brutalities that Donald Rumsfeld failed to imagine when he authorised a list of seemingly innocuous interrogation techniques (including “mild, non-injurious physical contact”), signed it flippantly “However, I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”

Donald Rumsfeld's signature on the Haynes Memo, authorising new interrogation techniques

You may still want to check the reading list, and if you want to contact me please do: The site will remain up, and if the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay remains open this coming November as it seems likely it will, the site will again republish the log in real time.

Continued attention

posted December 8, 11:52, 2009.

Last night, Detainee 063 received its first real amount of attention, thanks to an appearance at Kottke and from there on Metafilter.

It’s been interesting to see the feedback, which has led me to want to clarify a few things. There is now a link on the front page so that anyone visiting the site for the first time can see all previous entries arranged from oldest to most recent. And, although it’s still a work in progress, I’ve begun to put together a small reading list for anybody who wants to find out more about the context of the interrogation, including the official context that led to the approval of the harsh interrogation techniques used on Al-Qahtani and other inmates at Guantanamo.

If anyone has any more suggestions or any comments, please do contact me.

Unfortunately, the log is absolutely genuine (the question was asked in the Metafilter comments). It was obtained by Time Magazine in the summer of 2005 and published in full to their website in 2006, and is now freely available there and elsewhere on the internet.

By republishing the log in this manner, this site is intended to draw attention to it at a time when forgetting the abuses committed at Guantanamo and elsewhere is very much in fashion, where the hope is increasingly that this stain on America and the world’s conscience will just fade and disappear.

It is also meant to make readers re-examine what they believe constitutes torture.

The interrogation of Mohammed Al-Qahtani

posted November 22, 22:25, 2009.

Update 23 November 2010: This is the second time that this site has republished the interrogation log of Mohammed Al-Qahtani first leaked by Time magazine. I set up the site in 2009 as it was becoming clear that Barack Obama would not make his self-imposed deadline to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. As of November 2010, 174 inmates remain at the base. Plans to shut it down and deal with the prisoners still there have stalled.

Detainee 063 is republishing the interrogation log of Mohammed Al-Qahtani in real time. Beginning on 23 November 2002, the log covers a fifty-day stretch of Al-Qahtani’s interrogation at Guantanamo Bay (where he was, and still is, being held on suspicion of terrorism). Each entry will appear on the website exactly seven years after it was first recorded [now, as the site publishes the log for the second time, exactly eight years after it was first recorded].

Over the course of the fifty days, Al-Qahtani, Detainee 063, is questioned by teams of interrogators working in shifts, typically for twenty hours a day. While individual entries of the log are sometimes brutal and unpleasant to read, what is particularly disturbing about the treatment Al-Qahtani receives is its relentlessness. By publishing the log in real time, this site is intended as a kind of re-enactment – to show how mistreatment which might not appear immediately  as terrible as, for example, waterboarding, can nonetheless come to amount to nothing short of torture, how by being prolonged and unceasing it can become unbearable.

As well as at the site itself, the entries are being made available through an RSS feed and a Twitter account.

By the date the log begins, Al-Qahtani has already been in US custody for almost a year, having been captured in Afghanistan in December 2001, and has been marked for intense interrogation for several months, his fingerprints having linked him to an August 2001 attempt to enter America.

As the days and weeks go on, sometimes an IV drip will be forcibly administered to ensure that Detainee 063 remains well enough to continue the interrogation. On one occasion, when he has been handcuffed to his seat to prevent him interfering with the IV, he will bite through the tube running into his body. He will be put in a booth covered with images of 9/11 victims. Images of victims will be taped to his clothes. His head and beard will be shaved and female interrogators will be used to cause him discomfort. He will be made to act as a dog, being taught to stay, come and bark. His hands and feet will swell. His heart rate will slow to 35 bpm.

On January 22, 2009, two days after assuming office, Barack Obama issued an executive order that the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay be shut down within a year. By the time the last entry of Al-Qahtani’s interrogation log is published at Detainee 063, that deadline will almost have arrived.

Last week, Obama admitted that the deadline would not be met. “I’m not disappointed,” he said in an interview: he always knew it was going to be tricky, he just underestimated how long it takes to get things done in Washington. Discussing the centre’s closure he said, “There is a set of detainees though that are dangerous to the United States, but unfortunately evidence against them may be tainted. Figuring out how to deal with them always was going to be difficult.”

Some of the reinterpretations of international and US law made under the Bush administration – reinterpretations that made possible the interrogation of Detainee 063 – have since been rescinded. However, abuses like those committed and then logged by Al-Qahtani’s interrogators have tainted a great deal – more even than just the evidence against detainees.

Dealing with these issues will be difficult. To ignore them would be abhorrent.

Photo from July 23, 2008 photograph of a watch tower at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, in Cuba. Randall Mikkelsen/AFP/Getty Images)

photo from The Big Picture. Randall Mikkelsen/AFP/Getty Images.