‘WE TORTURED QAHTANI’…. By some measure, we already knew that Mohammed al-Qahtani — perhaps best known as “Detainee 063” after the Time cover story detailing his interrogation — had been tortured. Attempts to prosecute him have repeatedly been delayed after officials were forced to concede that the evidence against him had been gleaned through “coercive interrogation.”

But for all of the White House talk about how the United States “does not torture,” it’s occasionally helpful to learn that Bush, Cheney, and others have been lying, and it’s precisely why al-Qahtani can’t be charged.

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”

“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.

Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani’s health led to her conclusion. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture, she said.

Intelligence officials had evidence that Qahtani was planning to be the 20th hijacker on 9/11, and the prosecution against him, as Philip Carter noted last year, “should have been an opportunity for the government to prove its case against this defendant and al-Qaida — and to confer some legitimacy on America’s war on terrorism through the legal process.”

But we can’t, because we tortured him. The Bush administration thought it would get “tough” with suspected terrorists, but instead, it got a bunch of evidence we can’t use, while undermining the nation’s moral standing, breaking the law, and arguably committing war crimes.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.