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Official Admission of Torture Highlights Obama’s Dilemma

The New York Times has a good round-up of opinions today on the impact of Pentagon official Susan Crawford’s admission yesterday that Mohammad al-Qahtani was indeed tortured, and that’s why she dismissed the military commission charges against him, as has long been suspected.

Experts ranging from Georgetown University’s David Cole, a longtime military commissions critic, to Matthew Waxman of Columbia University, a former defense department official under President George W. Bush who supports trials by military commission, weighed in on the significance.

Here’s what I think is the most important point, from Cole:

It is not enough to drop criminal charges against the torture victims, as Ms. Crawford did. Indeed, if wrongdoers can be prosecuted without reliance on coerced evidence, they should be. Rather, we must hold the torturers accountable. To date, not a single high-level military or administration official has been deemed responsible for the torture policy – even though it was specifically authorized by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and many others in the highest levels of the Bush Cabinet and executive branch.

For those who haven’t been following the uproar since Crawford’s admission yesterday, Al-Qahtani is the notorious suspected “20th hijacker” who was denied entry to the United States one month before the Sept. 11 attacks. He was later captured in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2002, where he’s been held ever since.

Crawford said Qahtani was subjected to 18-to-20-hour interrogations for 54 consecutive days, strip-searched and forced to stand naked in front of a female agent, threatened with a military dog, then forced to imitate one–led around on a leash and made to perform dog tricks. On top of that, he was “forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation” and “was told that his mother and sister were whores,” Crawford told the Post.

How all this was supposed to have encouraged Qahtani to produce useful information for American authorities remains a mystery. For now, he’s stuck at Guantanamo Bay with no opportunity to defend himself.

It will be up to the Obama administration to decide what to do about that — and as Cole points out, what to do about the people responsible for so seriously screwing up this case.

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