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Plaintiff in Suit Against Rumsfeld Subjected to Sexual, Religious Humiliation at Guantanamo

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Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani is among the plaintiffs named in a war crimes lawsuit filed in Germany today against outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights accuse Rumsfeld of being directly involved in the brutal interrogation of al-Qahtani. We speak with al-Qahtani’s attorney, Gita Gutierrez. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, a year ago, I interviewed U.S. Army Specialist Tony Lagouranis, an Army interrogator from 2001 to 2005, served a tour of duty in Iraq from January 2004 to January 2005, first stationed at Abu Ghraib. In the spring of 2004, he joined a special intelligence-gathering task force that moved among detention facilities around Iraq. In the interview, Specialist Tony Lagouranis described some of the interrogation techniques he used on prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

TONY LAGOURANIS: It was just like we were trained in the schoolhouse, right out of the Army Field Manual. We would just talk to them, ask them questions, maybe, you know, use some psychological approaches but nothing—nothing too serious. But I knew that some interrogators there were still at that time, in January of 2004, using a little bit harsher techniques. Like, they—if a prisoner wasn’t cooperating, they could adjust his diet. People were in deep, deep isolation for months there, which I believe is illegal, according to Army doctrine. And they would also take their clothes and their mattress so that they would be cold in their cells.

AMY GOODMAN: Former U.S. Army interrogator Tony Lagouranis speaking on Democracy Now! last year. Well, we’re going to go back to Berlin right now to Gita Gutierrez. She is an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents Mohammed al-Qahtani, one of the plaintiffs who’s been detained at Guantanamo since January 2002. Gita Gutierrez, we don’t have much time. You’ve just filed this criminal complaint against Donald Rumsfeld and other high-ranking U.S. officials. Can you tell us about the client you represent, al-Qahtani?

GITA GUTIERREZ: Yes. Mohammed is the victim of what’s called the “first special interrogation plan,” which was a regime of interrogation tactics that amounted to torture that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld authorized himself, passed down through the chain of command and was implemented by one of the other defendants, Major General Geoffrey Miller.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us how you came to actually meet Mohammed al-Qahtani face to face, and what he told you about what happened to him.

GITA GUTIERREZ: His father had come to the Center for Constitutional Rights seeking legal representation for his son. And we filed a petition for habeas corpus on Mohammed’s behalf in October 2005. I first met with him in Guantanamo in December 2005 and have continued to meet with him for the past 10 months to talk about what happened to him.

I think what’s actually extraordinary about his case and the complaint we brought in Germany is that the information that we have about the interrogation tactics used against him are not simply from Mohammed’s claims, but are drawn as well from government documents that established the tactics used against him. There was an interrogation log leaked from Guantanamo, as well as Freedom of Information Act documents, emails, complaints from FBI agents at Guantanamo who observed Mohammed during his interrogation and were concerned about abuse.

AMY GOODMAN: What did he say happened to him?

GITA GUTIERREZ: Specifically, he was subjected to approximately 160 days of isolation, 48 days of sleep deprivation, which was accompanied by 20 hour-long interrogations consecutively. He would be permitted to sleep for four hours, between 7:00 a.m. and 11:00, in order to disrupt his sleep patterns and wear him down psychologically.

During that period of time, he was also subjected to sexual humiliation, euphemistically called “invasion of space by a female,” at times when MPs would hold him down on the floor and female interrogators would straddle him and molest him.

He was subjected to religious humiliation and was forcibly had his beard and hair shaved, which, of course, is a violation of his faith.

He was physically abused, had medical professionals in the room during his interrogations monitoring him and at times doing medical procedures on him in conjunction with the interrogation.

So, he was put through quite a number of tactics, in and of themselves which would constitute torture, but certainly in combination had a tremendous and severe psychological and physical effect on him. At one point in Guantanamo, his heart rate dropped so low that he was at risk of dying and was rushed to the military hospital there and revived, sent then back to interrogations the following day and was actually interrogated in the ambulance on the way back to his cell.

AMY GOODMAN: Gita Gutierrez, I want to thank you for being with us, attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights representing Mohammed al-Qahtani, who’s been detained at Guantanamo since January 2002, speaking to us from Berlin. This is Democracy Now!, We will continue to follow this lawsuit as it makes its way through Germany’s courts.

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