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Guantanamo Bay Interpreters May Have Sabotaged Interviews

By Erik Schmitt and Thom Shanker

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

American interpreters at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who have been arrested or are under suspicion for possible espionage may have intentionally sabotaged interviews with detainees by inaccurately translating interrogators’ questions and prisoners’ answers, senior American officials said on Monday.

It is unclear in how many cases, if any, this may have happened, the officials said. But military investigators are taking the issue seriously enough to review taped interrogations involving the Arabic-language interpreters under scrutiny to spot-check their accuracy.

If the investigators’ worst fears are realized, officials said, scores of interviews with suspected al-Qaida or Taliban prisoners at the Cuban detention center could be compromised, and military officials could be forced to reinterview many of the camp’s 680 detainees.

“There are enough suggestions that give us cause to compare the audiotapes with the translations,” said one senior American official familiar with the inquiry.

The official declined to say what those suggestions might be, and other senior American officials similarly refused to cite any specific evidence of deliberate mistranslation by the interpreters.

The concerns about the reliability of some of the camp’s 70 military and civilian linguists only add to the growing mystery surrounding the motives and objectives of as many as 10 people who worked at the camp, had contact with the prisoners, and are now under suspicion in the widening inquiry, military officials said.

Pentagon officials are saying very little publicly about the cases, in part because they are still baffled about whether there was a conspiracy to infiltrate the camp, and partly because of the nature of the investigation, a sensitive matter involving military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies.

Top defense officials have yet to explain publicly what any of the accused spies might have been trying to achieve at Guantanamo Bay.