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Judge Finds Abusive Gitmo Interrogations Yield False Confessions, Bad Info

A judge's recently-released opinion opens a window on Gitmo's harsh interrogation techniques, and the bad intel they yield.

A few weeks ago, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia released a declassified version of a judge’s ruling in the case of Al Rabiah, a Kuwaiti citizen who has been held at Guantanamo for seven years. The judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, found that the government could not credibly support its allegation that Al Rabiah was part of the Taliban or al-Qaida, and that the evidence against him wasn’t sufficient to justify his continued detention. She ordered the government to release Al Rabiah " forthwith."

But the judge’s opinion is more than a legal document; it’s also a window into the interrogation process at Guantanamo and the risk that "enhanced interrogation techniques" will produce false information. Excerpts from the opinion are below; you can also read the whole document.

Al Rabiah’s background.

Kollar-Kotelly describes Al Rabiah as a 50-year-old father of four, who graduated from the Air Service Training school at Perth College, Scotland, with a degree in aviation maintenance in 1981. He then went to Kuwait Airways, where he worked until his detention in 2001. At the time Al Rabiah was captured, he was an overweight man in his 40s, with " various medical ailments such as high blood pressure and chronic pain in his neck and lower back]" and no military training, save for two weeks of compulsory training in the Kuwait Army until he was discharged for a knee injury.

Al Rabiah often used his vacations to perform humanitarian work in impoverished or war-torn countries, the judge writes, and it was to perform the same kind of work that he traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001—an explanation that Kollar-Kotelly writes is supported by the evidence. After he tried to leave the country via Iran, whose border guards denied him entry, Al Rabiah tried instead to cross the Pakistani border, but he was captured by villagers and turned over to the Americans, who later transferred him to Guantanamo.

The government’s evidence against Al Rabiah was "surprisingly bare."

The government’s case against Al Rabiah initially rested on two main pillars: allegations made against him by fellow detainees and his own confessions. But in the judge’s opinion, neither held any weight.

The judge’s ruling cites four detainees who made allegations against Al Rabiah. The names of his accusers are redacted, as are the specifics of their allegations, but Kollar-Kotelly explains her reasons for rejecting them. The first accuser made statements that were incorrect; the second made statements that changed over time, and which the judge called "demonstrably false"; the third seems to have made statements about someone who was not Al Rabiah; and the fourth made his allegations only after one week of sleep deprivation, exceeding the military’s own guideline prohibiting sleep deprivation for more than four days, " and he did not repeat this allegation either before or after."

Kollar-Kotelly notes that the government itself " withdrew most of its reliance" on the witnesses against Al Rabiah during the course of the trial. She writes that their allegations are unreliable, writing, " the Court finds that none of the alleged eyewitnesses have provided credible allegations against Al Rabiah." However, she calls it "very significant that Al Rabiah’s interrogators apparently believed these allegations at the time they were made, and therefore sought to have Al Rabiah confess to them." That brings her to those confessions.

Al Rabiah’s confessions were obtained only after his interrogators began using "aggressive interrogation tactics," at least one of which was apparently used without proper authorization.

Kollar-Kotelly found that Al Rabiah initially denied any involvement with al-Qaida, even after he was told that eyewitnesses had made allegations to the contrary. Al Rabiah’s confessions began only after his interrogators " began using more aggressive interrogation tactics."