WASHINGTON—A suspected Saudi terrorist told a military hearing that he was routinely tortured by his American jailers into falsely confessing that he was involved in the USS Cole bombing and that he claimed that Osama bin Laden had a nuclear bomb only to please his captors and stop the abuse.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, whom the government accuses of being one of the main suspects behind the attacks on the Cole, is the second so-called "high-value" detainee to testify that he was tortured while he was held in secret CIA-run detention centers before being transferred to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for suspected terrorists last September.
But unlike Khalid Shaikh Mohammed—the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks who admitted to a long list of terrorist actions even as he said he'd been tortured—al-Nashiri said he made up stories of involvement in crimes to stop the torture.
"From the time I was arrested five years ago, they have been torturing me," al-Nashiri said, according to a transcript of the March 14 hearing that the Pentagon released on Friday. "It happened during interviews. One time they tortured me one way, and another time they tortured me in a different way."
The transcript shows al-Nashiri was asked to describe how he was tortured, but military officials deleted passages where he appeared to give details.
"Many things happened," he said in an uncensored portion. "They do so many things. So, so many things."
The unidentified officer presiding at the hearing, intended to determine whether al-Nashiri should be held as an enemy combatant, said al-Nashiri's allegations would be investigated. Under military rules, testimony that has been coerced can be used against a detainee if it's considered proof of his terrorism involvement.
al-Nashiri's hearing, which lasted approximately two hours, was the ninth transcript to be made public since the Pentagon began the review process for the high-value detainees on March 9. Al-Nashiri's appeared to be the most heavily redacted to date, a possible explanation for the 16-day delay in its release. Previously, the longest period between a hearing and a transcript release had been 10 days.
Al-Nashiri said that making his interrogators "happy" was his primary motivation for accepting involvement in terrorist actions.
"They were very happy when I told them those things," he said. "But when they freed me, I told them all, `I only told you these things to make you happy.'"
Asked if he knew who his torturers were, al-Nashiri said he did not. But pressed by the presiding officer on whether they were Yemenis or Americans, he responded, "They were Americans."
Al-Nashiri also denied that he was an enemy of the United States and said he'd never been a member of al-Qaida. But he said that if the term "enemy combatant" included anyone who wants the U.S. out of the Persian Gulf, then 10 million people would qualify.
"That will mean that I am one of those people," he said. "Why do you interfere in the Gulf with all your weapons? That's my opinion and the opinion of everybody else in the Gulf."
U.S. officials claim al-Nashiri was a key member of al-Qaida and paid for the 2000 Cole bombing, which killed 17 sailors and injured 40 others. Al-Nashiri denied the allegations, saying he knew the people responsible through a fishing "business relationship" but that he "did not know what they were planning to do."
An unidentified member of the hearing panel asked him to explain why he had "so many relationships with business associates in Yemen, Dubai and Saudi Arabia who have been involved in some form of terrorism."
"It's a common thing," al-Nashiri replied. "We are young men. I travel a lot." He said his destinations included Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Chechnya—where he visited battlefields and witnessed "how the fights were taking place."
"But that doesn't mean that I was involved with them," he said.
The Pentagon also released the transcript of a hearing for another suspected terrorist, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, a Malaysian also known as Lillie who declined to participate in the hearing but asked that a statement be read. In that statement, he denied helping transfer money to carry out the 2003 bombing of a Jakarta hotel.
According to evidence presented at the hearing, Lep traveled to Bangkok, Thailand, to transfer $50,000 from al-Qaida to the militant Islamic group Jemaah Islamiyah. The U.S. maintains that $30,000 was used to bomb the J.W. Marriott in Jakarta on Aug. 5, 2003.
The U.S. also claims that an al-Qaida operative identified Lep as a member of a suicide team that was to attack a building in the United States. The U.S. noted that an M-16 rifle with ammunition was found in his apartment in Thailand after his capture, along with documents that described how to make bombs and grenades.
Lep noted in his statement that it was "not against the law in Thailand to have an
M-16 in your apartment" and denied knowing "anything about a suicide team."
Copies of the transcripts of certification hearings released so far can be found at the Defense Department's www.defenselink.mil Web site. Click on Detainee Affairs on the home page, then scroll down to Reviews.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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