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Detained 9/11 figure faces new charges

By William Glaberson
New York Times News Service / November 19, 2008
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NEW YORK - Military prosecutors have decided to file new war crimes charges against a Guantanamo detainee who has been called the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 terror plot, discounting claims that his harsh interrogation would make a prosecution impossible.

Earlier charges against the detainee, Mohammed al-Qahtani, were dismissed without explanation by a military official in May, and there had been speculation that the Pentagon had accepted the argument that coercive techniques used in questioning him would undermine any trial.

The decision will put additional pressure on the incoming Obama administration to announce whether it will abandon the Bush administration's military commission system for prosecuting terror suspects. Qahtani's well-documented interrogation at the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has made his case a focal point in debates about Guantanamo and interrogation methods that critics say amount to torture.

In response to questions about the military commissions yesterday, Brooke Anderson, the chief national security spokeswoman for the transition, said, "President-elect Obama has repeatedly said that he believes that the legal framework at Guantanamo has failed to . . . swiftly prosecute terrorists."

In an interview, the chief military prosecutor for Guantanamo, Colonel Lawrence J. Morris of the Army, said he would file new charges against Qahtani, a Saudi who was denied entry into the United States at the Orlando, Fla., airport in August 2001.

The interrogation of Qahtani, public military documents show, included prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, exposure to cold, and involuntary grooming, as well as requiring him to obey dog commands.

A Pentagon inquiry in 2005 found that the methods were "degrading and abusive."

Morris said prosecutors had decided there was "independent and reliable evidence" that Qahtani had been plotting with the Sept. 11 hijackers.

The 9/11 Commission concluded that Qahtani was to have been one of the "muscle hijackers" and that the lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, went to the Orlando airport to meet him, on Aug. 4, 2001.

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