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Pentagon says top Bin Laden aide detained

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Times Staff Writers

A high-level Al Qaeda operative who helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan in 2001 during the U.S. military operation has been captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Pentagon and CIA said Friday.

Muhammad Rahim, an Afghani, was captured last July in Lahore, Pakistan, by Pakistani authorities, who quickly handed him over to the CIA, according to sources familiar with Rahim’s detention. Rahim was then kept in secret custody by the CIA until he was handed over to the Pentagon and to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay this week.

CIA spokesman George E. Little said he could not comment on where Rahim was held since last summer, what kinds of interrogation techniques he was subjected to, and what he might have told his interrogators.

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Some of the other suspected senior Al Qaeda leaders in CIA custody have been subjected to controversial coercive methods of interrogation, including a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.

“I cannot characterize what he may or may not have said while in CIA custody,” Little said. “His detention by the CIA was part of a lawful program that has yielded valuable information in the nation’s efforts to fight terror.”

In a memo to CIA employees Friday, Director Michael V. Hayden said Rahim’s detention last summer “was a blow to more than one terrorist network. He gave aid to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other anti-coalition militants.”

Hayden also said Rahim’s importance within Al Qaeda and “the continuing threat he presented to American interests” prompted the CIA to place him in its secret interrogation program overseas.

Rahim is the 16th alleged Al Qaeda member whom the CIA has classified as a high-value detainee. Fourteen were taken to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006, some after spending several years in secret CIA custody, and one was taken to the base last year.

“Rahim is a tough, seasoned jihadist. His combat experience, which dates back to the 1980s, includes plots against U.S. and Afghan targets,” said Hayden.

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He said the Afghani reportedly sought chemicals for one attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and tried to recruit individuals with access to American military facilities there.

He also said Rahim was proficient in several languages and familiar with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.

As the terrorist haven in Afghanistan was collapsing in 2001, Rahim helped prepare Tora Bora as a hide-out, Hayden said.

“When Al Qaeda was forced to flee from there, Rahim was part of that operation, too,” Hayden said in his letter.

A Defense Department spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said that Rahim had ties to Al Qaeda organizations throughout the Middle East and that he had become one of Bin Laden’s most trusted facilitators and procurement specialists.

Gordon said Rahim would be treated “appropriately and in accordance with policy and procedures for other [Defense Department] detainees at Guantanamo, and in accordance with U.S. law and international obligations.”

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In a statement, the Pentagon said Rahim, “just like previous detainees who have arrived at Guantanamo,” would undergo an orientation to help him adjust to detention rules and procedures.

He will be given an internment serial number and will undergo a combatant status review tribunal.

The International Committee of the Red Cross will be granted access to him.

There are now about 280 detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Six of the high-value detainees at Guantanamo, including reputed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were charged last month with murder and terrorism and set for trials that could result in the death penalty.

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josh.meyer@latimes.com

carol.williams@latimes.com

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Meyer reported from Washington, Williams from Guantanamo Bay.

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