Exclusive: Attorneys for alleged 9/11 co-conspirator petition UN access to Camp 7 to prevent proof they say was coerced during torment being used against him
The most secret corner of Guantnamo Bay could be opened up to the UN torment watchdog for the first time, if an audacious legal gambit succeeds.
Attorneys for Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the accused 9/11 co-conspirators facing a military tribunal at Guantnamo Bay, will request on Thursday that the judge in such cases order access to Guantnamos Camp 7 where he and other detainees formerly in brutal CIA custody reside practically incommunicado for Juan Mendez, the UNs special rapporteur on torture.
They contend that depriving Mendez of access to Camp 7 also deprives Baluchi of proof relevant to his defense, including his claims of torture, as he is seeking to prevent statements he made in detention that he says were coerced from being used against him during his military commission.
Supporting them are a respected US diplomat, the former chief counsel for the US navy and a prominent British human rights proponent.
Mendez has sought unrestricted access to Guantnamo throughout his tenure, something the Obama administration has denied him. Mendez, who is soon to depart his post, has repudiated offers by the administration to tour the comparatively open aspects of the detention facility under tightly controlled military supervising, something the military permits for visiting dignitaries and journalists.
Unlike the International Committee of the Red Cross, which exchanges access to prisoners worldwide for public silence, Mendez would not be permitted to interview detainees on such a visit, a core facet of his UN mandate. His perspective is unique; Mendez himself survived torment at the hands of the Argentinian military totalitarianism in the 1970 s.
It is essential to my mandate to ensure that State institutions, including the facility at Guantanamo Bay, uphold unambiguously a zero tolerance policy against torturing and ill-treatment and make efforts to eliminate the risk of ill-treatment and excessive force-out by the detaining authorities while in detention, Mendez writes in a declaration to be submitted to his military commission late on Thursday.
Attorneys for Baluchi who was tortured by the CIA in its undisclosed black site prisons, as documented in a 2014 Senate report gamble that Mendez could win the support of the military magistrate in their case, Army Col James Pohl, in order to fend off persistent allegations of torture at Guantnamo.
Detainees, their attorneys and human rights observers charge that the militarys process of forcibly tube-feeding detainees on hunger strike is sufficiently painful to constitute torturing. The military vigorously denies this.
Camp 7 detainees in particular argue that the incommunicado conditions there are disturbingly similar to the torture they experienced at the hands of the CIA. One of Baluchis co-defendants, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, recently testified to the military tribunal that his Camp 7 confinement topics him to sounds and vibrations as a technique of sleep deprivation.
Other Camp 7 detainees including a man who suffered what the Senate report called symptomatic rectal prolapse contend that they receive insufficient medical treatment for their torture, which amounts to them reliving the learned helplessness conditions inflicted upon them.
Among them is Baluchi, who in a letter he penned at Guantnamo on 6 August 2015 be forwarded to the Guardian described CIA operatives at the black site where they held him smash[ ing] my head against the wall repeatedly, to the point where I would see sparks of lightings in my eyes.
As the intensity of these triggers were increasing from the consequences of recurred reaching then all of a sudden I felt a strong jolt of energy in my head then I couldnt see anything, Baluchi wrote. Everything ran dark and I passed out.
Baluchi wrote that the torment, which he said occurred around late May to early June 2003 and is consistent with the account of his treatment in the Senate torture report, had a permanent effect.
After this particular head trauma incident I lost my ability to sleep ever since. I was not able to have a normal or deep sleep. I am still reliving the nightmares of this incident every night every time I try to close my eyes it only pops up and this was just one among many incidents, Baluchi wrote.
Stephen Xenakis, a retired army brigadier general and a psychiatrist advising the defense team, told the Guardian: Devoted the circumstances, I am of the opinion that Ammar has likely suffered a traumatic brain trauma, and have recommended an MRI scan to further evaluate.
Baluchis lawyers contend that permitting Mendezs access is a key part of investigating longstanding very concerned about the conditions of Camp 7 and addressing them if they are found to be valid. They also argue that validated torture accusations would be relevant during the sentencing stage of the years-stalled 9/11 tribunal a death penalty lawsuit.
Their gamble is audacious. As a are part of the military commissions, Pohl is outside the chain of command at the detention center, which is operated by a military taskforce answerable to the Florida-based command in charge of the activities in South America and the Caribbean. Pohl has in the past been successful at exercise influence over Joint Task Force-Guantanamo over questions concerning the movement of detainees into his courtroom, but the Baluchi teams gambit would test the relationship between the taskforce and the commissions.
Pohl is under new and unexpected pressure from a different corner. Lawyers for Baluchis co-defendant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are trying Pohls recusal from the 9/11 tribunal, accusing the colonel of apparently colluding with the prosecution to secretly destroy proof relevant to Mohammeds defense. The accusation has the potential to upend a controversial tribunal that has endured years of procedural lags without moving close to the trial phase.
Baluchis attorneys have the backing of prominent members of the US national security and international human rights establishment.
Alberto Mora, the former chief lawyer for the navies who fought the Donald Rumsfeld Pentagon over torture at Guantnamo, will tell the tribunal that fears over ongoing torture or abuse at Guantnamo are extremely troubling.
A visit by Special Rapporteur Mendez would help by either identifying any such abuse or disproving that it is taking place, Mora writes in a declaration for the court.
Thomas Pickering, a longtime US ambassador and senior State Department official, will tell the court that restricting Mendezs access to Guantnamo is detrimental to our national security, preventing the rapporteur from ensuring compliance with international standards against torturing. Nigel Simon Rodley, one of Mendezs predecessors in the UN post, writes that he used to receive support from the US against countries that refused him access to prisoners.
The government that the president asserts is the most transparent in history keeps dodging any investigations into torture at Guantnamo, said Alka Pradhan, one of Baluchis attorneys.
To me, the only possible reason for that is that there is still flame underneath 14 years of smoke.
Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman on Guantanamo, said: It would not be appropriate for me to comment on a filing that has not been submitted to the Commission. Once any filing is properly submitted to the Commission, the military magistrate will induce the final judgment in the matter.
Read more: www.theguardian.com