WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld allowed an “abusive and degrading” interrogation of an al-Qaida detainee in 2002, an online magazine reported Friday, citing an Army document.
In a report a Pentagon spokesman denounced as “fiction,” Salon quoted a December 2005 Army inspector general’s report in which officers told of Rumsfeld’s direct contact with the general overseeing the interrogation at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The report, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, comes amid a spate of calls by retired U.S. generals for the Pentagon chief to resign to take responsibility for U.S. military setbacks in Iraq.
Rumsfeld spoke regularly to U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, a key player in the treatment of detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo, during the interrogation of Mohammed al-Kahtani, who is suspected to have been an intended Sept. 11 hijacker, Salon quoted the inspector general’s report as saying.
Kahtani, a Saudi national, suffered “degrading and abusive” treatment by soldiers who were following the interrogation plan Rumsfeld had approved, Salon reported, quoting the 391-page report.
Over 54 days in late 2002, soldiers accused him of being a homosexual, and forced him to stand naked in front of a female interrogator, to wear women’s underwear and to perform “dog tricks” on a leash, Salon reported.
Kahtani was forced to undergo 18- to 20-hour interrogations during 48 of the 54 days, the magazine said.
Salon cites Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, an Army investigator, as saying in a sworn statement to the inspector general that “The secretary of defense is personally involved in the interrogation of one person.” Rumsfeld had weekly contact with Miller, according to Salon.
Schmidt is quoted under oath as saying he concluded that Rumsfeld did not specifically order the interrogation methods used on Kahtani, but that Rumsfeld’s approval of broad policies permitted abuses to take place.
Rumsfeld had approved 16 harsher interrogation tactics for use against Kahtani on Dec. 2, 2002, Salon reported. Strategies included the use of forced nudity and removing religious items. Rumsfeld has said publicly that none of these policies led to “inhumane” detainee treatment, Salon said.
Pentagon cites reviews dismissing report
Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, dismissed the report’s allegation that Rumsfeld or the agency condoned abuse.
“We’ve gone over this countless times and yet some still choose to print fiction versus facts,” he said by telephone.
“Twelve major reviews, to include one done by an independent panel, all confirm the Department of Defense did not have a policy that encouraged or condoned abuse. To suggest otherwise is simply false,” he said.
Schmidt, an Air Force fighter pilot, was quoted as telling the inspector general that he had concerns about the length and repetition of the harsh interrogation methods, which he likened to abuses later uncovered at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
“There were no limits,” Schmidt is quoted as telling the inspector general in an August 2005 interview.
The Pentagon has said Kahtani gave interrogators information on Osama bin Laden’s health and methods of evading capture, and on al-Qaida’s infiltration routes.
Miller — who headed the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, helped shape detention practices at Abu Ghraib and later oversaw all detention operations in Iraq — in January invoked his right not to incriminate himself in the courts-martial of soldiers tried for Abu Ghraib abuses.
Reuters contributed to this report