A former Marine Corps prosecutor was set to testify before Congress on Thursday that harsh interrogation techniques had tainted his case against an alleged Al Quaeda terrorist — until a last minute email from the Pentagon told him not to.
Lt. Col. Stuart Crouch, a former lawyer with the Marines now working as a military judge, was prepared to tell a House Judiciary subcommittee about his refusal to prosecute suspected terrorist Mohamedou Slahi in 2004 after reportedly discovering that severe measures had been used to extract incriminating statements from the Guantanamo Bay detainee. Crouch considers the methods used by interrogators to be torture, according to the Wall Street Journal, who first reported the story.
Crouch told the Journal that he had previously told superiors about the scheduled appearance and received no objection. But on Wednesday he received an email informing him that the Pentagon’s general counsel had determined that “as a sitting judge and former prosecutor, it is improper for you to testify about matters still pending in the military court system, and you are not to appear before the Committee to testify tomorrow.”
House Judicary Chair John Conyers told the paper that he was “outraged that the Defense Department is refusing to allow Lt. Col. Couch to testify before this committee, in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the government, concerning what he saw and heard relating to interrogation practices at Guantanamo.” The committee is considering subpoenaing Couch’s testimony if the Pentagon doesn’t reverse course.
“Mr. Slahi, who is alleged to have helped recruit several of the Sept. 11 hijackers, is one of two high-value Guantanamo prisoners who were authorized to undergo ‘special’ interrogation methods,” the Journal‘s Jess Bravin writes. “In addition to allegedly suffering physical beatings and death threats, Mr. Slahi was led to believe that the U.S. had taken his mother hostage and might ship her to Guantanamo Bay, where she would be the sole female amid hundreds of male prisoners.”
In a March interview with the Journal, Crouch had said his decision not to prosecute Slahi’s case was a difficult one: he had lost a friend in the Sept. 11 attacks, a co-pilot of the second plane to strike the World Trade Center towers.
“Here was somebody I felt was connected to 9/11, but in our zeal to get information, we had compromised our ability to prosecute him,” Crouch said of Slahi at the time. He told the paper that he informed former Army chief-prosecutor Col. Bob Swann in 2004 that he was “morally opposed” to the interrogation techniques used against the detainee, and refused to participate in a prosecution on those grounds alone.
Testifying before Thursday’s House Judiciary hearing on the treatment of detainees — where Couch was originally slated to appear — a former Navy instructor categorically defined the controversial interrogation tactic of waterboarding as torture.
“Waterboarding is torture, period,” Malcolm Nance, an ex-interrogator himself, told the House panel. “I believe that we must reject the use of the waterboard for prisoners and captives and cleanse this stain from our national honor.”