Terror Watch: Global Plot?

British and U.S. agents are investigating whether high-grade explosives believed to have been used in last week's attack on London's bus and underground train systems came from military stockpiles in the Middle East, including Iraq, a U.S. counterterrorism official told NEWSWEEK.

The investigators are also exploring the idea that the explosives may have come from inside Britain or another foreign nation such as China, the official said. But while no conclusions have been reached, law-enforcement agencies seem increasingly convinced that there was an international dimension to the plot that has yet to be unraveled, two U.S. counterterrorism officials said. Their comments echo those from investigators from other countries as well. The "origin of the explosives appears to be military, that's what's worrisome," Christophe Chaboud, chief of France's antiterror squad was quoted as saying in the London Metro newspaper.

The mounting evidence that the explosives used in last week's attacks were highly sophisticated comes as British police examined material seized from houses in Muslim neighborhoods of Leeds, home to three of the four suspects in the case. Police believe all four died in the bombing, but it is not yet clear whether they were suicide bombers or whether their deaths were unplanned. All were reportedly British citizens or residents of Pakistani descent.

So far, little is known about the suspects that connect them to any international group or plot, although one of them, Shazad Tanweer, a 22-year-old cricket-loving sports-science graduate, is reported by family members to have gone to Pakistan for two months earlier this year to study religion. Surveillance cameras captured the suspects as they arrived in London on July 7, about 20 minutes before the first of the coordinated explosions that killed at least 52 people and injured 700. The TV surveillance cameras captured all four men arriving at King's Cross station that morning around 8:30 a.m.

One U.S. official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the material, said that British investigators informed their colleagues within a day or two of the attack that the bombers had planted devices primed with military-grade explosive. One official said the explosive was relatively unusual and clearly different from those more commonly used in other terrorist attacks.

Guantanamo Interrogations

In the summer of 2003, a U.S. military interrogation chief at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, created an elaborate scenario designed to get a high value Al Qaeda detainee to crack, according to a new military report.

After tricking the suspect into thinking his family had been captured overseas, the interrogator warned him that his mother would be sent off to long-term detention if he didn't start cooperating, said the report. Then, the interrogator delivered a harrowing message to the prisoner: that he "will very soon disappear down a very dark hole" and his "very existence will become erased." All records of him will be deleted from the computers. "No one will know what happened to him and, eventually, no one will care."

The interrogation technique constituted a "death threat" to the prisoner--a tactic that violates the Uniformed Military Code of Justice, according to the report, released by the U.S. Southern Command today. Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, the commander of SouthCom, which oversees operations at Guantanamo, told a Senate panel today that he has recommended that the unidentified interrogator (who refused to cooperate with the SouthCom probe) now be investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for possible disciplinary action.

The story of the alleged death threat is only one of a wealth of new details about unorthodox practices by U.S. military interrogators that are detailed in the report. While the report itself finds no evidence of torture, its conclusions about techniques that have been used on some prisoners in the past seems likely to revive the debate about U.S. detention practices in general and Guantanamo Bay in particular.

"It is clear from the report that detainee mistreatment was not simply the product of a few rogue military police on a night shift," charged Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the report Wednesday. "Rather, this mistreatment arose from the use of aggressive interrogation techniques."

The report was commissioned late last year, when internal FBI e-mails disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act alleged multiple abuses by military interrogators at Guantanamo. One FBI agent, who, like others who wrote the e-mails, had been assigned to the facility, referred to "torture techniques" that were being used by the military. Craddock ordered a full-scale investigation into the content of the e-mails--and a determination of whether anybody needed to be disciplined.

The report's conclusions found that some, but not all, of the incidents documented in the e-mails had in fact occurred. Among the improper practices that Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmitt, chief of the SouthCom investigating team, told the Senate Armed Services Committee today had been verified: interrogators on a handful of occasions used growling guard dogs to play on detainees' phobias, used duct tape to cover a detainee's mouth and head--in part because he refused to stop chanting passages from the Qur'an--and "short shackled" detainees to an eyebolt in the floor of an interrogation room, forcing them to either crouch very low or lie in a fetal position on the floor.

Perhaps the most striking and provocative findings related to the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, possibly the most infamous of prisoners at Guantanamo. A Saudi citizen who tried to fly into Orlando in August 2001, Qahtani is widely believed to have been the 20th hijacker who was supposed to be on the team that hijacked United Airlines Flight 93. That plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

In an effort to make him crack, today's report revealed, U.S. military interrogators used a variety of humiliating techniques that included forcing him to wear a woman's bra and placing a thong on his head, telling him that his mother and sister were whores and that he was homosexual, tying him up on a leash, leading him around the room and instructing him "to perform a series of dog tricks," according to the report. Qahtani was also forced to stand naked in front of women, subjected to strip searches and had poured water over his head on 17 occasions between Dec. 13, 2002, and Jan. 14, 2003. On another occasion, the report said, an interrogator who squatted down in front of him in an aggressive manner unintentionally squatted over his Qur'an.

The investigating team concluded that the cumulative effect of these techniques constituted degrading and abusive treatment" of the detainees. This resulted in a recommendation from General Schmidt's team that the commanding officer of Guantanamo at the time, Gen. Geoffrey Miller, should be held accountable for failing to supervise the interrogations and should be admonished. But General Craddock said he overruled that recommendation because he concluded that Miller was never informed of the specific interrogation techniques being used and that no "law or policy was violated."

"Since there was no finding that U.S. law or policy was violated," General Craddock testified, "there was nothing for which to hold him accountable."

Join the Discussion