How an Innocent Man Was Tortured Into Making False Confessions
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In the following pages of the ruling, which are again fill of redactions, it is nevertheless possible to glimpse the progress of this game that was not only grim and cynical, but also potentially deadly (because, as a prisoner put forward for a trial by Military Commission, it was always possible that the government would have pressed for the death sentence had al-Rabiah been convicted).
For page after page the distressing truth peeks out: al-Rabiah “did not know what to admit” when his interrogators explained that his “full confession did not incorporate a description concerning a suitcase full of money that he allegedly gave bin Laden”; they “began to question the truthfulness of his confessions almost immediately”; they “began ‘grilling’ al-Rabiah concerning [redacted]”; al-Rabiah “was interrogated [redacted] during which he made a full confession regarding his activities at Tora Bora”; interrogators “pressed for additional details concerning Tora Bora”; they “became increasingly convinced that his confessions [redacted]”; they “concluded in one interrogation report [redacted]”; “One week later, his interrogator concluded [redacted]”; “After several additional interrogation sessions, al-Rabiah’s interrogators concluded simply [redacted].”
Readers can fill in the gaps through the judge’s response to the redacted passages. “Incredibly,” she wrote, “these are the confessions that the Government has asked the Court to accept as truthful in this case.”
Al-Rabiah explains his cooperation with the interrogators; threats and punishment described
Judge Kollar-Kotelly then dismissed further allegations, which again, were mostly redacted but included the following ironic gem: “The Government has not even attempted to explain how someone with no known connection to al-Wafa [a Saudi charity regarded, during Guantánamo’s “witch-hunt” phase, with particular suspicion] and who had never even been to Afghanistan longer than a few weeks could ascend to such an honored position, and no credible explanation is contained in the record.”
She then moved on to al-Rabiah’s own explanations of how he came to make false confessions, noting that he had stated that, shortly after his arrival at Guantánamo, “a senior [redacted] interrogator came to me and said, ‘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.”
This is deeply disturbing, of course, as it indicates that at least one senior interrogator recognized that the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize that there were innocent men at Guantánamo -- and it has been clear for many years that hundreds of innocent men were held, who had no connection whatsoever to any form of militancy, let alone terrorism -- had set in motion a system in which, whether voluntarily or not, all the innocent men at Guantánamo were expected to make false confessions, either so that they could continue to be labeled as “enemy combatants” on release, to maintain the illusion that Guantánamo was full of “the worst of the worst,” or, as in al-Rabiah’s case, so that they could be tricked and transformed into terrorist sympathizers and facilitators.
For some (and it has been confirmed by a former interrogator that at least 100 prisoners in Guantánamo were subjected to SERE-derived “enhanced interrogation”), confessions clearly came easily, and without the use of abuse or torture, but for others, including al-Rabiah, “pressure” was involved. Judge Kollar-Kotelly drew on a declaration from March this year, in which he explained that his confessions arose out of “scenarios offered … by [his] interrogators … which [he] believed to be the story they wanted [him] to tell and which [he] felt pressured to adopt” (emphasis added). As he also explained: