On Morning Joe, Buchanan did not acknowledge Bush official's reason for saying U.S. military tortured detainee

On MSNBC's Morning Joe, discussing a Washington Post article reporting Bush administration official Susan Crawford's conclusion that Guantánamo detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured, Pat Buchanan suggested that specific techniques used on Qahtani were not torture, ignoring the reason Crawford gave for reaching her conclusion. As Mika Brzezinski noted, Crawford said her conclusion that Qahtani was tortured was based not on “any one particular act,” but on “a combination of things” Crawford called “abusive,” “uncalled for,” and “coercive.”

Discussing a January 14 Washington Post article reporting that "[t]he top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks," MSNBC's Pat Buchanan ignored the reason the official, Susan J. Crawford, gave for reaching that conclusion. As co-host Mika Brzezinski noted, according to the Post, Crawford said her conclusion that Mohammed al-Qahtani, the detainee, was tortured was based not on “any one particular act,” but on “a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health,” which Crawford said were “abusive,” “uncalled for,” and “coercive.” Rather than address Crawford's rationale for saying Qahtani was tortured, Buchanan discussed only whether each specific technique reportedly used on Qahtani was torture, suggesting that they were not.

On Morning Joe, Buchanan stated: "[Y]ou don't have waterboarding in there. And so they've got other things that are now identified as torture. I mean, prolonged isolation. I mean, we've heard growing up, what is solitary confinement? It's punishment for prisoners." When Brzezinski started to say, “Sleep deprivation, nudity, and prolonged exposure to cold --” Buchanan interjected: “But they do that in every prison show you've ever seen.” Buchanan later asked: “Is sleep deprivation torture?” He continued: “It's never been considered that before. Waterboarding is an open question. Isolation, is that torture?” Later in the show, guest host Mike Barnicle appeared to read an email he said he had received from Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, which, according to Barnicle, read: “Sleep deprivation? ... Isolation? ... Cold? ... This is not torture.” Later still, when Brzezinski again cited the Post article and said that “there's at least one reported case of torture that is being released by U.S. officials,” Buchanan responded, "[T]hey're defining sleep deprivation, cold, isolation as torture."

In fact, as Brzezinski noted, Crawford concluded that Qahtani's treatment in its entirety -- rather than “any one particular act” -- constituted torture, as shown by its impact on his medical health. From the Post article:

Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health led to her conclusion. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. ... You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture, she said.


Qahtani was denied entry into the United States a month before the Sept. 11 attacks and was allegedly planning to be the plot's 20th hijacker. He was later captured in Afghanistan and transported to Guantanamo in January 2002. His interrogation took place over 50 days from November 2002 to January 2003, though he was held in isolation until April 2003.

“For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” said Crawford, who personally reviewed Qahtani's interrogation records and other military documents. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.”

At one point he was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus, according to a military report. Qahtani “was forced to wear a woman's bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation” and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” the report shows.

The interrogation, portions of which have been previously described by other news organizations, including The Washington Post, was so intense that Qahtani had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and death. At one point Qahtani's heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute, the record shows.

In addition, contrary to Buchanan's assertion that sleep deprivation has not previously been considered torture, Dr Hernán Reyes of the International Committee of the Red Cross' Assistance Division has noted that the Supreme Court, in the 1944 case of Ashcraft v. Tennessee, approvingly quoted an American Bar Association report saying that “deprivation of sleep is the most effective torture, and certain to produce any confession desired.” In his September 25, 2007, testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dr. Allen Keller, director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, also listed sleep deprivation as a form of “torture”:

There must be no mistake about the brutality of the stress and duress “enhanced interrogation methods” and that the harmful medical consequences, both physical and psychological, of such coercive methods can be long lasting and severe. Each tactic, by itself or in combination has the potential to cause significant harm. These methods should be called for what they are: torture. Let me give some examples:

Sleep Deprivation

Prolonged periods of sleep deprivation can result in confusion, significant cognitive impairments and psychosis-delusions and paranoia -- clearly not predictors for eliciting accurate information. It can also result in long-term psychiatric disorders such as depression. Physical symptoms include headaches and dizziness and chronic disruptions of normal sleep patterns. In describing the use of sleep deprivation by the Soviet police in the 1930's, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes in the Gulag Archiplego “Sleeplessness befogs the reason, undermines the will, and the human being ceases to be himself, to be his own, 'I'.”

One patient of mine who in his country of origin was kept in a prison cell with bright lights and loud noises described the following. “The absence of sleep made me feel so sick. I felt dizzy. I had headaches. It affected my mind. I had trouble in my mind I felt like I was going crazy.” When I first saw him years after his abuse, he was still unable to have a normal night's sleep. Sleep deprivation also weakens the immune system and deprives vital organs of needed time to repair damage inflicted to the body.

From the January 14 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

BARNICLE: Well, buried in this story, Mika, today on the front page of The Washington Post --

BRZEZINSKI: Tell people what the story is about.

BARNICLE: Bob Woodward's front-page story, “Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official,” by Bob Woodward, has to do with Susan Crawford's comments to Mr. Woodward -- you can read it on washingtonpost.com -- about Mohammed Qahtani, who was allegedly going to be one of the hijackers on September 11th. He was detained -- grabbed in Afghanistan -- taken to Guantánamo, where he has been held and supposedly tortured according to the Post. The torture included sleep deprivation, nudity, prolonged exposure to cold, sustained isolation. And it's quite a lengthy story, and it has to do -- it pivots around Susan Crawford, a retired Army judge --


BARNICLE: -- who is the authority -- convening authority for the military commission. She says to Woodward in the body of this story, quote, “There's no doubt in my mind, he” -- meaning Qahtani -- “he would have been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001. Crawford said of Qahtani, who remains detained at Guantánamo,” quote, “He's a muscle hijacker. He's a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don't charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, 'Let him go.' ” Clearly --


BARNICLE: -- this is now an issue that Barack Obama is dealing with off of his comment about Guantánamo earlier in the week, when he said, you know, it's not going to be as easy as a lot of people think.

BUCHANAN: He's exactly right. And you don't have waterboarding in there. And so they've got other things that are now identified as torture. I mean, prolonged isolation. I mean, we've heard growing up, what is solitary confinement? It's punishment for prisoners.

BARNICLE: Parochial school.

BRZEZINSKI: Sleep deprivation, nudity --

BUCHANAN: That's right.

BRZEZINSKI: -- and prolonged exposure to cold --

BUCHANAN: But they do that in every prison show you've ever seen.


BRZEZINSKI: -- leaving him in a life-threatening condition, Pat.

BUCHANAN: All right, look. He's a Saudi. Suppose --

BRZEZINSKI: And everything that Barnicle just said still doesn't mean we torture.

BUCHANAN: All right, suppose we do this. Suppose you take that Saudi, and you say, “We've got to let you go, that's too bad.”

BRZEZINSKI: Did we get anything out of him?

BUCHANAN: Put him on a plane to Riyadh, and see how the Saudis treat him.


BUCHANAN: And then he's a dead man.

BRZEZINSKI: But that's --

BUCHANAN: So what are we supposed to do now? We're responsible not only for letting him go but for his protection? Do we don't send him back anywhere --

BRZEZINSKI: You know what, Pat?

BUCHANAN: -- where he can be hurt?

BRZEZINSKI: You've been in the jump of the article; I haven't gotten to it. Did they get anything out of him, torturing him? Did they get intelligence? What was the point?

BARNICLE: That's really not in there.

BRZEZINSKI: Because you didn't put any excuses in there for torturing a human being --

BUCHANAN: But is that torture?

BRZEZINSKI: -- and for being --

BUCHANAN: Is sleep --

BRZEZINSKI: -- anything less than what this country is based on.

BUCHANAN: Is sleep deprivation torture? It's never been --


BUCHANAN: -- considered that before. Waterboarding is an open question.

BRZEZINSKI: -- I think what they're looking at --

BUCHANAN: Isolation, is that torture?

BRZEZINSKI: No, they're looking at a collective --

HAROLD FORD JR. (Democratic Leadership Council chairman): Isolation is probably not torture.

BRZEZINSKI: They're looking at a collective number of things that were done to him that ended up putting him in a life-threatening condition.

BARNICLE: Yeah, but it gets -- it gets --

BUCHANAN: Life-threatening?

BARNICLE: It gets --

BRZEZINSKI: That's what they're --


BUCHANAN: But if you capture them, would it be better then to shoot them, because you know, American -- I mean, American soldiers shot -- if they shot guys who we were apprehending terrorists, we shot them and killed them -- nobody would prosecute you for that. But they're going to prosecute you if you put him in a cell and put a light on, and he doesn't get sleep, and that's the way you get information. It's a nasty business, but I'll tell you, what is the alternative?

BRZEZINSKI: All right, no, I think it's a fair argument. We've got a big problem [unintelligible]. It's not going to be an easy thing to do, by the way, shutting down Guantánamo.


BARNICLE: I have heard from Joe Scarborough --

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, how's he doing?

BARNICLE: -- via email.

GEIST: Uh-oh.

BRZEZINSKI: Good. I know he's really busy.

BARNICLE: Well, he's kind of upset.


GEIST: Uh-oh.

BARNICLE: He sent this email to me; wanted me to mention it to you. “Sleep deprivation?” We're talking about one of the main stories today in The Washington Post.

BRZEZINSKI: Big story in The Washington Post about a Guantánamo detainee being tortured.

BARNICLE: Sleep deprivation? Question mark.

BRZEZINSKI: That's what happened to him.

BARNICLE: Isolation? Question mark.

BRZEZINSKI: That's what happened to him.

BARNICLE: Cold? Question mark.

BRZEZINSKI: That's what happened to him.

BARNICLE: This is not torture.

BRZEZINSKI: Thanks, Joe, for the education. But the bottom line is -- he can finish his slurpie from Starbucks while I continue the story --


BRZEZINSKI: -- as reported by The Washington Post -- that the sleep deprivation, the prolonged exposure to cold, left this man in a life-threatening condition. And [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and his people are now revealing that this happened at Guantánamo, which is a big controversy about whether or not to be closed. Barack Obama plans to close the prison -- one of the first things he plans to do while in office.

GEIST: Whether or not it was torture, if you polled Americans, I don't think you'd find a lot weeping for the guy who was going to get on a plane for 9-11.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I argue that we should care about this. We can talk about that. There's a lot of other things going on today.


BRZEZINSKI: OK, but complicating this problem --


BRZEZINSKI: -- I hear you on that, Pat --


BRZEZINSKI: -- is the front page of The Washington Post this morning, where there's at least one reported case of torture --


BRZEZINSKI: -- that is being released by U.S. officials.

BUCHANAN: -- they're -- they're defining --

BRZEZINSKI: All right.

BUCHANAN: -- sleep deprivation, cold --

BRZEZINSKI: I'm gonna read --

BUCHANAN: -- isolation as torture.

BRZEZINSKI: I'm gonna read -- yes, I'm -- but the confluence --

BARNICLE: Read it.

BRZEZINSKI: -- of those --

BARNICLE: Read it.

BRZEZINSKI: -- activities put this guy in danger in a way that is being defined as inhuman and torture. It says that this Mohammed al-Qahtani, who allegedly planned to participate in 9-11 -- just saying all sides of this -- was interrogated with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity, and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a life-threatening condition.

And now, according to the U.S. government, his treatment met the legal definition of torture, and that's why the case was not referred for prosecution.

BARNICLE: You know --

BRZEZINSKI: There are a lot of problems happening here.