Saturday, April 15, 2006

Report says Rumsfeld allowed Guantanamo abuse

Report says Rumsfeld allowed Guantanamo abuse

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld allowed an "abusive and degrading" interrogation of an al Qaeda detainee in 2002, the online magazine Salon reported on 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 at, titled "What Rumsfeld Knew," comes amid calls by a string of respected military commanders for the Pentagon chief to resign to take responsibility for U.S. military setbacks in Iraq.

Rumsfeld spoke regularly to Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, a key figure in the treatment of detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo, during the interrogation of Mohammed al-Kahtani, a Saudi suspected to have been an intended September 11 hijacker, the Salon report said.

Kahtani received "degrading and abusive" treatment by soldiers who were following the interrogation plan Rumsfeld had approved, Salon said, quoting the 391-page report, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Over 54 days in late 2002, soldiers forced Kahtani to stand naked in front of a female interrogator, accused him of being a homosexual, forced him to wear women's underwear and made him perform "dog tricks" on a leash, the Salon report said.

Salon cited Lt. Gen. Randall 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."

Schmidt is quoted as saying under oath that he concluded Rumsfeld did not specifically order the interrogation methods used on Kahtani, but that his approval of broad policies permitted abuses to take place.

Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, dismissed the report's allegation that Rumsfeld or the defense department condoned abuse.

"We've gone over this countless times and yet some still choose to print fiction versus facts," Gordon 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."

Schmidt, an Air Force fighter pilot, was quoted as telling the inspector general 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 al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's health and methods of evading capture as well as the group'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.

In an interview with Dubai's Al Arabiya television aired on Friday, Rumsfeld acknowledged the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and said that soldiers had been punished for that.

"It's something that should not have happened, it did happen, and we regret it deeply," he said.