Germany's Denials on Detainees Challenged : Lawyers Say

Lawyers Say Prisoners Were Told of Al-Qaeda Leaders Interrogated

Germany's Denials on Detainees Challenged
Lawyers Say Prisoners Were Told of Al-Qaeda Leaders Interrogated

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 7, 2006; Page A12

BERLIN, Oct. 6 -- The chief plotter of the Sept. 11 hijackings and another al-Qaeda leader who spent time in secret CIA prisons might have been interrogated in Germany before their transfer last month to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to lawyers for other terrorism suspects in U.S. custody.

Lawyers for a British legal association that represents Guantanamo prisoners reported Friday that two of their clients had given independent -- though secondhand -- accounts that al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Tawfiq bin Attash were questioned on military bases in Germany after their capture in Pakistan in 2003.

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The prisoners' statements, based on information that they said was revealed to them by interrogators, challenge repeated denials by the German government that it played any part in the U.S. government's secret network to detain and transport terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The statements also open the possibility that the CIA held prisoners on a U.S. military base in Germany without the knowledge of the host government in the early days after the attacks.

The British legal defense group, Reprieve, acknowledged that it did not have proof that German airspace or territory was used. But it called on the German government to investigate further. The prisoner statements, which have been declassified by the U.S. military, are contained in notes from interviews with their lawyers at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo.

"I'm certainly not saying it's established fact," Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve's legal director, said in a telephone interview. "But it's definitely something we should follow up on."

Thomas Steg, a German government spokesman, dismissed the report. He said a German parliamentary committee had already found no evidence that the CIA used Germany to transfer or detain terrorism suspects. "There is nothing to these accusations," Steg said at a news briefing. "There were and are no such facilities in Germany."

Robert Wood, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, declined to comment.

Last month, President Bush revealed that 14 senior members of the al-Qaeda leadership had been taken to Guantanamo on Sept. 6 after spending years overseas in secret prisons operated by the CIA. The 14 prisoners included Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Attash, who helped plan the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

After the two were captured, they disappeared from public view. The Bush administration has not revealed where they were detained before they were taken to Cuba last month.

According to Reprieve, however, foreign interrogators fishing for information about Mohammed and Attash revealed to other prisoners that the al-Qaeda leaders were being kept in Germany for at least part of that time.

One of those prisoners, Binyam Mohammed, said that he was imprisoned in Morocco for 18 months after the CIA transferred him there. Moroccan interrogators, he said, accused him of meeting Khalid Sheik Mohammed in March 2002 to discuss an alleged plot to explode a radiological device, or "dirty bomb."

During questioning, Binyam Mohammed said his Moroccan interrogators told him the al-Qaeda leader was being held at a U.S. prison at an air base in Germany. The Moroccan prisoner, who was later taken back to Guantanamo, denies having any connection to al-Qaeda or knowing Khalid Sheik Mohammed, his lawyers said.

Separately, Attash's younger brother said he was told by Jordanian interrogators in 2003 that the USS Cole plotter was also being detained at a U.S.-run prison at an air base in Germany, according to Reprieve. The brother, 21-year-old Hassan Attash, was also later transferred to Guantanamo and remains in custody there.

Reprieve said both prisoners' statements concerning Germany were unsolicited. Because they were being held in isolation at Guantanamo and elsewhere, the group said, it would have been difficult to coordinate their story.

Since last year, German prosecutors have also been investigating whether the CIA used Ramstein Air Base, a NATO installation and headquarters of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, to transfer a kidnapped radical cleric from Italy to Egypt in 2003.

In that case, German and Italian investigators have tracked flight logs indicating that the cleric was flown from a joint U.S.-Italian base in northern Italy to Ramstein, where he was put on another plane and flown to Cairo.