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'20th hijacker' claims torture in Guantanamo

A Saudi suspected of being the "20th hijacker" in the September 11 attacks has recanted his confession, saying he made false statements after he was beaten, abused and humiliated at Guantanamo, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

  • AP
  • Published: 23:14 September 8, 2007
  • Gulf News

San Juan, Puerto Rico: A Saudi suspected of being the "20th hijacker" in the September 11 attacks has recanted his confession, saying he made false statements after he was beaten, abused and humiliated at Guantanamo, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Mohammad Al Qah'tani - who US officials have said previously was subjected to harsh treatment authorised by former Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld - denied knowledge of the September 11 attacks in his first appearance before a military panel at Guantanamo Bay in October.

"I am a businessman, a peaceful man," Al Qah'tani testified under oath, nearly five years after he was taken to the detention centre in Cuba. "I have no connection to terrorism, violence or fighters."

The AP on Friday obtained a transcript of the hearing from the government under the Freedom of Information Act. This is the first extensive statement by Al Qah'tani ever released.

An unidentified military officer at the hearing said the detainee admitted travelling in Afghanistan in 2001, where he received terrorist training, met with Osama Bin Laden and agreed to participate in a martyr mission for Al Qaida.

Al Qah'tani said the statements were not true and he only admitted to them while was being "tortured" at Guantanamo.

The alleged torture, which he details in a separate statement, included being beaten, restrained for long periods in uncomfortable positions, threatened with dogs, exposed to loud music and freezing temperatures and stripped nude in front of female personnel, he said. "Once this torture stopped, I explained over and over that none of what I said was true," he told the Administrative Review Board panel, convened to determine whether he could be released.

"I have no intent to kill innocent people or anything like that," he said.

Al Qah'tani is one of the most notorious prisoners at Guantanamo, where the US now holds about 340 men on suspicion of terrorism or links to Al Qaida or the Taliban.

The US has alleged that Al Qah'tani, who military records show is about 28, barely missed becoming the 20th hijacker on September 11, 2001.

Al Qah'tani threatened with dogs

Military investigators in 2005 concluded that Mohammad Al Qah'tani had been subjected to harsh treatment approved by Donald Rumsfeld because he would not crack under interrogation.

The investigation led by Air Force Lt Gen Randall M. Schmidt confirmed, among other things, that Al Qah'tani was forced to wear women's underwear, was threatened with dogs, and kept in solitary confinement for 160 days. At one point, he was interrogated for 18-20 hours per day on 48 of 54 days.

Schmidt concluded, however, that while the treatment was abusive it was within policy and not torture because he was not denied food, water or medical care, and interrogators did not inflict physical pain on him.

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