Journalism in the Public Interest

How Judges Are Ruling When Mistreatment Is an Issue

This chart breaks down how judges have ruled on interrogation evidence that Guantanamo inmates said was tainted by mistreatment in federal lawsuits challenging their detention. The government lost eight of the 15 cases because of coercion ranging from verbal threats to physical abuse that the judges called torture.

Criminal law experts say these cases help explain why the government has decided not to pursue criminal convictions against some detainees. The Obama administration has already said that at least 48 of the remaining 176 Guantanamo prisoners would be held indefinitely because they're too dangerous to release but can't be prosecuted successfully in military or civilian court. They have said that coercion-tainted evidence is one obstacle.

So far judges have decided 53 of these challenges, known as habeas petitions. Check out our master database of Guantanamo cases, which offers details about all of these court battles. More than 50 prisoner lawsuits are still pending.

Detainee Allegations Against Detainee Outcome of Case Detainee or Informant Allegedly Coerced Content of Allegedly Coerced Statements Description of Alleged Coercion Government Position on Challenged Statements Judge's Call on Challenged Statements
Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that Mohammed traveled, trained and fought for al-Qaida and/or the Taliban. Won Another detainee (Binyam Mohamed) That the petitioner, Mohamed, had attended an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan. For nine pages Judge Gladys Kessler chronicled the "harrowing story" of how the informant was abusively interrogated in Pakistan and Morocco while "being held at the behest of the United States." For some two years beginning in April 2002, Binyam Mohamed was at various points beaten; kicked; chained to a wall; cut dozens of times including on his genitals; prevented from eating, sleeping, sitting or straightening up; and repeatedly threatened by foreign captors -- interspersed from the beginning with questioning by FBI agents and CIA interrogators. He was "fed information" about al-Qaida activities by himself and others and "told to verify it," Kessler wrote. The government doesn't contest allegations that the key informant was brutally abused, including during his time in U.S. custody. Rather, the government argues that the specific statements it's offering were taken under acceptable conditions by an investigator who "developed a relationship with him that was non-abusive and, in fact, cordial and cooperative." Judge Kessler rejected the informant's statements as tainted by "two long years" of abuse and manipulation. It was "more plausible" that he'd manufactured details to appease interrogators than that he'd told the truth, she said. The coercion-tainted evidence was key to the government's case, the judge explained. She believed that the detainee "was recruited and traveled via a terrorist pipeline" and stayed at suspect guesthouses. But that wasn't enough to justify his detention as an enemy fighter, in Judge Kessler's view.
Fouad Mahmoud Al Rabiah

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that in October 2001 Al Rabiah traveled to Afghanistan as a member of al-Qaida and helped lead battle operations against U.S. forces. Won Self and another detainee Self: That he met with Osama bin Laden and "undertook a leadership role in Tora Bora" by directing the distribution of supplies to the battlefield. Other detainee: His name and the contents of his statements are redacted. Self: Al Rabiah was repeatedly interrogated at Guantanamo, where at some point his captors "began using more aggressive interrogation tactics" including "abusive techniques that violated the Army Field Manual and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War," according to Judge Kollar-Kotelly's opinion. He was subjected to systematic sleep deprivation and threatened with rendition "to places where Al Rabiah would either be tortured and/or would never be found." Other detainee: The detainee underwent systematic sleep deprivation for a week. The government denied that Al Rabiah had been coerced into giving false confessions. It said he had never complained about abuse to a U.S. military representative he was assigned at Guantanamo and that his confessions were too nuanced to have been made up. Even if the judge believed Al Rabiah's claims about abusive interrogations, the government argued, his testimony from military hearings should be accepted because fears from his interrogations had dissipated. (It's not clear from the redacted opinion what the government argued about the other allegedly abused detainee's statements.) Judge Kollar-Kotelly rejected Al Rabiah's confessions as "not believable," because they were compelled by fear and uncorroborated. Interrogators fed Al Rabiah information that even they didn't believe, the judge said. She accepted Al Rabiah's claims of abuse, because details about it emerged "from the Government's own documents." She said even Al Rabiah's military hearing testimony was tainted by fear, because at the time an aggressive interrogator was still involved in his detention. Since the government's evidence consisted "almost exclusively" of the detainee's invalid confessions -- its other evidence was incredible or "demonstrably false," the judge said --- the judge ruled in favor of Al Rabiah.
Fahmi Salem Al-Assani

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that Al-Assani received military training from al-Qaida in Afghanistan, served as a bodyguard for bin Laden and joined the battle against U.S. forces at Tora Bora. Lost Another detainee, identified in Judge Gladys Kessler's decision as "Riyadh the Facilitator." That one guesthouse Al-Assani stayed at was run by the informant, Riyadh the Facilitator, "who facilitated travel for al-Qaida members and was an associate of Usama Bin Laden.” Al-Assani argued that the informant's statements were unreliable "because he was rendered to Jordan and tortured before arriving at Guantanamo." The opinion doesn't show whether the government took a position on how the judge should handle the allegation of abuse. Judge Kessler accepted the informant's statements, because Al-Assani "has presented no information on the extent of torture suffered by Riyadh or its impact on his statements." She said that "ample" other evidence showed Al-Assani had stayed at locations run by al-Qaida. More important, the judge said, was Al-Assani's own admission that he'd trained with al-Qaida and served as a foot soldier at Tora Bora.
Suleiman Awadh Bin Agil Al-Nahdi

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that Al-Nahdi received military training from al-Qaida in Afghanistan and fought against U.S. forces at Tora Bora. Lost Self (and another detainee -- apparently the same identity and issues as in the case of Fahmi Salem Al-Assani, with whom Al-Nahdi is associated). That Al-Nahdi was present when bin Laden spoke near the site of a battle about "jihad" and about being "at war with the United States." Al-Nahdi said he endured 20 days of torture at a Kabul prison -- being beaten and hit with a metal pipe and forced to sign a paper acknowledging his affiliation with al-Qaida -- before being transferred to U.S. custody. He said he confessed to hearing bin Laden speak only "as a result of torture." The opinion doesn't show whether the government took a position on how the judge should handle the allegation of abuse. Judge Kessler rejected Al-Nahdi's claim that his statements were tainted by torture, because he offered no proof and because ample other evidence suggested he fought with al-Qaida.
Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that Ali Ahmed joined al-Qaida and/or the Taliban to train and fight in Afghanistan. Won Another detainee Because of heavy redactions in Judge Gladys Kessler's opinion, it's impossible to know the substance of the detainee's statements, except that he allegedly identified Ali Ahmed in some inculpatory way. The judge indicated that the detainee-witness "underwent torture" at foreign and U.S. detention facilities overseas, but her opinion doesn't give details. The government didn't deny the detainee-witness had been tortured at some point, but rather argued that "the 'residual fear' of torture had been overcome by June of 2004, when he identified Petitioner." Judge Kessler rejected the government's argument that the detainee-witness's later statements weren't tainted by torture, because the government didn't offer any proof that his fears had subsided. The statements were unreliable, she ruled, and the government's other evidence was too speculative or equivocal to believe.
Adham Mohammed Ali Awad

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that Awad received military training from al-Qaida in Afghanistan and fought against U.S. forces. Lost Self The page-and-a-half where Judge James Robertson's opinion appears to address Awad's self-incriminating statements are almost completely blacked out. Other parts, though, suggest the statements referred to Awad's reasons for being in Afghanistan. Any self-incriminating statements Awad made were "a result of torture, the threat of torture or coercion," the detainee told Judge Robertson in a sworn statement. The only unredacted detail about his alleged mistreatment is that "interrogators threatened to withhold medical treatment." Parts of the court opinion suggest Awad's right leg had been amputated shortly before his capture. The government contested Awad's claim of abuse. According to the court opinion, "The government retorts that interrogators' notes reveal that Awad was provided care and that he used his medical condition as an excuse to avoid answering difficult questions." The redacted opinion doesn't show if or how Judge Robertson addressed the detainee's torture claim. But his conclusion makes clear that he believed Awad's allegedly tainted confessions, using them as a primary basis for upholding his continuing detention. "Awad's confessed reasons for traveling to Afghanistan" -- along with how his fit with descriptions of people on documents tied to al-Qaida -- gave the government a "gossamer thin" victory over Awad.
Musa'ab Omar Al Madhwani

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that Al Madhwani received military training from al-Qaida in Afghanistan and participated in fighting the U.S.-led coalition there. Lost Self That Al Madhwani trained at an al-Qaida military camp for 25 days and associated with al-Qaida members including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The government offered 26 documents summarizing Al Madhwani's statements while he was held at Guantanamo -- 23 from interrogations and three from subsequent military hearings about his detention status, according to Judge Thomas Hogan's opinion. Al Madhwani claimed he was tortured for over a month at two Afghan prisons before being transferred to Guantanamo in October 2002. Judge Hogan believed his claim that "United States forces were involved in both Afghanistan prisons." At one prison he underwent "a variety of harsh interrogation techniques," including being "suspended in his cell by his left hand" and blasted with continuous loud music, the judge wrote. The abuse continued at a second prison. The judge also noted that "multiple Guantanamo interrogators on multiple occasions threatened Petitioner when he attempted to retract statements that he now claims were false confessions." The government didn't deny that Al Madhwani had been tortured by foreign captors. In fact official medical records showed "severe" physical and mental problems had resulted from abuse abroad. Instead the government argued that moving Al Madhwani to Guantanamo changed his circumstances enough to lift his fears, and thus his self-incriminating statements there should be viewed as true and not concocted. Judge Hogan rejected evidence from Al Madhwani's Guantanamo interrogations as "tainted by coercion," because they began only six months after his torture abroad. "[I]nterrogators at Guantanamo had access to and relied on Petitioner's coerced confessions from Afghanistan," he wrote. They "continued to drink from the same poisoned well." But Judge Hogan did credit Al Madhwani's confessions at military review hearings, saying that the passage of two years since his torture abroad and the formal nature of the proceedings sufficiently removed the element of fear. Those confessions were the government's strongest evidence, the judge noted, and established that Al Madhwani had trained and associated with al-Qaida.
Saeed Mohammed Saleh Hatim

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that Hatim had trained at al Farouq, an al-Qaida military camp, and fought with al-Qaida and the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and U.S. forces. Won Self That Hatim trained at the al Farouq al-Qaida military camp. Hatim said that during the six months he was held in Kandahar, Afghanistan, "American forces" beat him repeatedly, blindfolded him with duct tape and threatened him with rape, according to Judge Ricardo Urbina's opinion. He said he manufactured self-incriminating statements only out of fear. The government didn't deny that Hatim had been abusively interrogated in Kandahar. Instead it offered statements he made later, at Guantanamo, arguing that enough time had passed since his abuse abroad to remove the element of coercion. Judge Urbina rejected the government's argument that Hatim's statements at Guantanamo were not "tainted by torture," saying there was no proof that Hatim had stopped feeling fear. The tainted evidence was "the only evidence that he attended al-Farouq and arguably constitutes the government's strongest purported basis for his detention," the judge wrote. The government's other evidence, he said, was unreliable for reasons other than coercion.
Mohammed Jawad

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that on Dec. 17, 2002, Jawad tossed a grenade in Afghanistan that seriously injured two U.S. soldiers and their local interpreter. Won Self That Jawad threw a grenade that injured U.S. troops. Jawad claimed to have undergone more than 50 interrogations in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo. He said that Afghan police threatened to kill him and his family if he didn't confess. U.S. interrogators at Bagram, where he was held for 49 days, repeatedly beat him, forced him into painful stress positions, kept him from sleeping, chained him to a wall and threatened to kill him, he told Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. At Guantanamo the abuse continued, he said, including two weeks of sleep deprivation. He tried to hang himself and, failing, slammed his head repeatedly into a wall in an effort to kill himself. The government didn't contest Jawad's claims of abuse and eventually ended the case by agreeing to send him home to Afghanistan. The case effectively ended because the government agreed to repatriate Jawad, before Judge Huvelle could issue a final decision based on the evidence. But the judge made clear in court hearings that she viewed the government's case as depending almost entirely on badly tainted confessions, and she excoriated government lawyers for continuing to fight Jawad's bid for release.
Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government accused Uthman of being an al-Qaida member who served as a bodyguard to bin Laden and fought alongside the Taliban at Tora Bora. Won Two other detainees: Sharqwi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj (a.k.a. Riyadh the Facilitator) and Sanad Yislam Ali Al Kazimi, both described by the judge as members of al-Qaida. Hajj: That a photograph of Uthman matched a name that the government claimed was an alias used by Uthman. Also, that Hajj had seen a man he knew by Uthman's alleged alias acting as a bodyguard for bin Laden around the time of September 2001. Kazimi: That a photograph of Uthman matched a name that the government claimed was an alias used by Uthman, and that he'd heard that Uthman served as a bin Laden bodyguard on the front lines. Hajj: Before being transferred to Guantanamo, Hajj said he was held in Jordan, where he was "regularly beaten and threatened with electrocution and molestation" and then transferred to a CIA prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was "kept in complete darkness and was subject to continuous loud music." He said he manufactured information to make the torture stop. He was held for a time in U.S. custody at Bagram. Kazimi: Before being transferred to Guantanamo, Kazimi said he was held in the United Arab Emirates, where interrogators beat him, kept him naked and shackled, "dropped him into cold water while his hands and legs were bound" and sexually abused him, the judge writes. He said he agreed with whatever interrogators said to avoid further torture. Next Kazimi was moved to the U.S. detention facility at Bagram, where he was isolated, shackled, "very frequently" interrogated and traumatized. The government didn't contest the detainees' claims of being tortured by foreign interrogators, but rather argued that statements obtained from them separately by a U.S. military criminal investigator were not extracted by fear and therefore should be viewed as truthful. The U.S. investigator interrogated each man on several days, for four hours at a stretch, at Bagram and then later the same year at Guantanamo. Judge Henry Kennedy accepted that the U.S. investigator didn't herself abuse Hajj or Kazimi, but he said that her sessions with the two informants occurred too close in time to their torture experiences to be viewed as untainted. At the time of some of her sessions, "torture of Hajj was ongoing," the judge wrote, and "Kazimi had arrived directly from the CIA prison, at which he was tortured, only about a month earlier." The informants' statements were the key to the government's case, said Kennedy. He rejected them -- because of taint and also because they were vague and unsubstantiated, he said -- and ruled in favor of Uthman.
Mohamedou Ould Salahi (aka Slahi)

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that Slahi recruited three perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, aided a high-ranking al-Qaida leader who was his cousin and helped develop al-Qaida's telecommunications capacity. Won Self That Slahi facilitated travel for several of the Sept. 11 hijackers, was a recruiter and propagandist for al-Qaida, took orders related to al-Qaida telecommunications projects and was tied to a Montreal al-Qaida cell. Judge James Robertson mentions but doesn't describe "extensive and severe mistreatment" that Slahi underwent at Guantanamo from mid-June 2003 to September 2003. The government didn't deny that Slahi had been abusively interrogated in 2003, but it argued that the statements he gave later were reliable because they were made "after a clean break, and after the passage of enough time to attenuate any taint." The government also argued that some of Slahi's coerced statements were nonetheless true. Judge Robertson admitted all the allegedly coerced evidence, saying he'd "give it the weight I believe it deserves." The partially redacted opinion doesn't show what conclusion he reached about the effect of coercion on individual pieces of evidence, but overall he decided the government had failed to produce enough reliable evidence to support Slahi's detention as an al-Qaida militant.
Yasein Khasem Mohammad Esmail

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government alleged that Esmail was a trained al-Qaida fighter who was present at the site of a battle against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Lost Self That Esmail traveled to Afghanistan at the behest of an al-Qaida member, received military training there from al-Qaida and traveled to the scene of a battle against the U.S. Esmail claimed that his initial Afghan captors beat and tortured him, and that he was "hit and tortured" by U.S. captors in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo. U.S. interrogators threatened to shoot him, buried him in the ground up to his neck and threw him from a moving plane causing his shoulder to break, he claimed. He said he repeatedly made up confessions to appease interrogators he feared would abuse him. The government contested Esmail's claims of being abused by U.S. interrogators. It produced sworn statements from two interrogators who denied using or witnessing most of the coercive techniques Esmail described, along with medical records that undercut his claims. Judge Henry Kennedy found the U.S. interrogators, who denied that Esmail was abused, to be more credible than Esmail. Esmail had been "mistreated" to some extent, the judge said, but his claims -- which changed during the course of the lawsuit -- were "exaggerated." He accepted Esmail's interrogation statements, which he said formed the bulk of the government's case, as good evidence.
Ravil Mingazov

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government accused Mingazov of joining a terrorist group associated with al-Qaida or the Taliban, receiving military training from al-Qaida and fighting with the Taliban. Won Self That Mingazov stayed at a camp run by a terrorist group, learned how to use military weapons and fought with the Taliban. Mingazov claimed that U.S. interrogators threatened to return him to Russia, where he believed authorities would badly abuse him. Those threats caused him to invent confessions, he told the judge. The government argued that the allegedly coerced confessions were true. Judge Henry Kennedy rejected Mingazov's interrogation statements -- the government's chief evidence -- as unreliable, because the evidence "was coerced by threats of return to Russia that allegedly amounted to mental abuse."
Omar Mohammed Khalifh

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government accused Khalifh of providing explosives training for al-Qaida, battling U.S. forces after September 2001 in Afghanistan and in other ways being a long-time member of enemy terrorist groups. Lost Self That Khalifh was asked by an al-Qaida operative to teach al-Qaida members about land mines and that he was present at sites of battles against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Khalifh alleged that he was mistreated during interrogations from 2004 to 2005 and urged the court to disregard his statements from that period. The mistreatment, according to Judge James Robertson's description, consisted of lack of care for "painful glaucoma," exposure to extreme cold that caused pain where Khalifh's leg had previously been amputated, denied use of a prosthetic leg and another allegation that is blacked out in the court opinion. The government denied mistreating Khalifh. Judge Robertson did not decide whether the challenged interrogation statements were tainted, saying that the government's other evidence was enough to justify detention.
Abd Al Rahman Abdu Abu Al Ghayth Sulayman

(See his entry in our main database.)
The government accused Sulayman of traveling from Yemen to Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of the Taliban. Lost Self Not described in Judge Reggie Walton's opinion. Sulayman claimed that he was "subjected to abuse" and "deceptive interrogation techniques" while at Guantanamo, according to Judge Walton's opinion. The government used interrogation statements that the detainee conceded were "consistent and truthful." Judge Walton accepted the government's interrogation evidence as reliable, because the detainee said he'd told the truth, and decided that the evidence proved Sulayman was part of the Taliban.