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Paper: CIA Coerces Qaeda Suspects

US Army soldier stands guards at outer perimeter of holding area for detainees in orange jumpsuits during in-processing, Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba
AP
Under secret interrogation rules approved after Sept. 11, CIA officers employed harsh, coercive measures against high-level terrorism suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay, a newspaper reports.

The New York Times reports CIA agents strapped suspected Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to a board, submerged him in water and made him think he might drown. The technique is known as "water boarding."

Detainees have been sent to other countries where they are led to believe they might be executed. Medications and food have been withheld from some of them. One CIA agent has been disciplined for threatening a detainee with a gun.

The Times reports that supporters of the rules say they are necessary to save American lives — that agents who used the methods were trying to find out if another attack was planned against the United States.

When employed against Osama bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida, the coercive methods led Zubaida to yield information on Jose Padilla, the American citizen held as an enemy combatant for allegedly planning a dirty bomb attack on a U.S. city. The Times also reports Zubaida helped to identify Mohammed as a plotter of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

They claim that the methods — which are similar to those used to train U.S. soldiers to withstand mistreatment if captured — do not constitute torture and do not violate American law.

But the FBI has ordered its agents to stay out of the high-level interrogation sessions.

Many interrogation experts say coercive methods are likely to yield inaccurate information.

The CIA — which has not allowed the Red Cross access to the high-level detainees — worries that its methods will be scrutinized in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse controversy in Iraq.

Some 600 detainees are held at Guantanamo Bay. The CIA's coercive methods are applied to a group of 12 to 20 prisoners, The Times reports.

Because the Bush administration considers detainees held there to be neither prisoners of war nor criminal suspects — and therefore to have none of the legal protections afforded to either group &3151; the Guantanamo Bay prison has been a lightning rod for criticism by foreign governments and civil libertarians.

The military has released elderly men and teenagers that it held there. Earlier this year, the U.S. turned over to Britain five British detainees. British authorities questioned the men, then set them free.

Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the legality of the detentions at Guantanamo. The Bush administration has argued federal courts have no jurisdiction over the base because it is a military installation on foreign soil.

The Bush administration also argues that it is necessary to hold the men for questioning. Tom, an interrogator at the base who said that some prisoners "provided wealths of information … Keys to the network, how it works, who was involved, how it fundraises, how it recruits, how it travels. Ongoing operations, imminent attacks on a number of occasions."

The coercive interrogation techniques occur under secret legal opinions written by CIA and Justice Department lawyers. After Sept. 11, the White House issued secret rules for the covert war on terrorism, but it is not clear if President Bush has approved the interrogation methods used on high-level detainees, The Times reports.

One set of documents says CIA agents will not be responsible for tactics that violate the Geneva Convention if they can argue that the prisoner was actually in the custody of a foreign government, The Times reports.

The Third Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war states that "no physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever."

But Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a Senate committee this week that the Geneva Convention applies to all prisoners held in Iraq, but not to those held in Guantanamo Bay.

He said the distinction is that the international rules govern wars between countries but not those involving groups such as al Qaeda. "Terrorists don't comply with the laws of war. They go around killing innocent civilians," Rumsfeld added.

Separately, the United Nations convention on torture, which the United States has signed, says torture consists of "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession … "

In U.S. law, torture is defined as "an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control."

U.S. law defines "severe mental pain or suffering" as "prolonged mental harm" caused by "the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering … (or) the threat of imminent death."