A top Bush administration official says the U.S. military tortured the alleged "20th hijacker" in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Susan Crawford told The Washington Post newspaper in an interview printed Wednesday that the treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani met the legal definition of torture and that is why she did not refer the case to prosecution.
Crawford is the administrator of the military commissions system established to prosecute suspected terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She says Qahtani was subjected to a number of harsh interrogation techniques, including forced nudity, sustained isolation, sleep deprivation and prolonged exposure to cold - treatment she says left him in a "life-threatening condition."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino today reiterated that it has never been the policy of the Bush administration to torture.
Crawford says the techniques were all authorized but were applied in an "overly aggressive and too persistent" manner. She says Qahtani was hospitalized twice at Guantanamo for a life-threatening heart condition that was a result of the interrogations. She says the those factors led her to dismiss war crimes charges against him in May.
The Saudi national was captured in Afghanistan and transferred to Guantanamo in 2002. Authorities say he planned to enter the U.S. to take part in the September 11 terrorist attacks. But he was denied entry into the U.S. a month before the attacks.
Qahtani recanted a confession he made at Guantanamo, saying it was obtained through torture.
The Bush administration has come under intense fire at home and abroad over Guantanamo, where some 250 suspected terrorists are being held, most without charge. Critics say the detainees are denied basic rights under the military commissions system. Administration officials have said all detainees are treated fairly, and that any allegation of abuse is taken seriously.
Aides to President-elect Barack Obama say he will issue an order to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within days after his swearing-in Tuesday.