Moral Low Ground

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Guantánamo Judges Order Medical Staff to Testify in Cases of Detainees Sodomized During CIA Torture

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The military judges in the death penalty cases against two alleged terrorists involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks have ordered medical staff at a secret Guantánamo Bay (GITMO) sub-prison to testify on matters including how much pain one of the detainees suffered following surgery to reconstruct his rectum after it was allegedly shredded while he was in Central Intelligence Agency custody.

The Miami Herald reports Judge James L. Pohl ordered the testimonies from staff at GITMO’s Camp 7 prison, the first of which should occur the week of December 5 in the mass murder case against alleged 9/11 accomplice and financier Mustafa al-Hawsawi. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on New York and Washington, DC. The 48-year-old Saudi national, who was captured with alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) in Pakistan in 2003, underwent surgery last month to repair a rectal prolapse suffered more than a decade ago in CIA custody and which had forced him to manually reinsert parts of his anal cavity in order to defecate.

Al-Hawsawi’s attorney, Navy Reserve Commander Walter Ruiz, sought a delay in the case, as he claimed his client is still suffering “excruciating” pain as a result of both the torture he endured and the surgery to repair the serious damage it caused.

“Mr. al-Hawsawi was brutally sodomized, his rectum shredded and his very insides dislodged,” argued Ruiz. “This corrective surgery is the long-overdue legal and moral obligation of our government, and that obligation extends to affording an appropriate amount of time to Mr. al-Hawsawi to fully recover.”

Ruiz said in a court filing that al-Hawsawi lost 13 percent of his body weight after surgery, was suffering severe pain, constipation, vomiting, nausea, dizziness, sleeplessness and general weakness. “The prosecution’s medical cronies hide behind their anonymity and speak without any accountability through their prosecutorial mouth pieces,” the attorney wrote.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture of detainees during the 15-year war against terrorism, al-Hawsawi was subjected to rectal exams with “excessive force” and suffered from a “medical emergency” prior to his transfer to GITMO. The report also casts serious doubts about al-Hawsawi’s guilt, with the CIA’s chief interrogator noting that “he does not appear to the [redacted] to be a person that is a financial mastermind.”

The Senate torture report further states that many innocent individuals were wrongfully detained due to mistaken identity and faulty intelligence, that these and other detainees were subjected to horrific and even deadly torture and abuse, and that the brutality and scope of the program were hidden from the Justice Department and even high-ranking members of the George W. Bush administration, including the president himself.

Among the most damning information released in the report were revelations of extreme — and in at least one case, deadly — torture perpetrated by CIA operatives. Detainees were interrogated for days on end, kept awake for up to 180 hours, forced to stand on broken legs and feet, had objects forced up their rectums and were exposed to lethally extreme cold.

In the other death penalty case, Judge Vance Spath ordered Camp 7’s senior medical officer and the prison commander or his stand-in to testify the week of December 12 on whether Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the October 12, 2000 al-Qaeda suicide attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, should be allowed to spend nights at the war court compound during hearings. Seventeen American sailors died in the attack. Rick Kammen, al-Nashiri’s attorney, claimed traveling between prison and court would traumatize his client, who he says suffers from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Judge Spath ordered the defendant to undergo an MRI brain scan, but the military has yet to deliver a magnetic resonance imaging machine to GITMO.

Al-Nashiri and his lawyers claim the 51-year-old Saudi was physically, sexually and mentally tortured in US custody. Declassified reports reveal he was subjected to the interrupted drowning torture known as “waterboarding” and terrorized with a power drill and with threats against his mother. He was also subjected to rectal hydration, an extremely invasive and often painful sodomy used to feed hunger-striking detainees. Critics have called the procedure tantamount to rape.

The impartiality of Judge Pohl has been questioned after it was revealed earlier this year that he “effectively conspired” with military prosecutors to destroy evidence in the KSM case. Numerous high-ranking GITMO officials have resigned over what they claim is a corrupt military commissions system established to prosecute detainees at the prison. Former GITMO lead prosecutor Col. Morris Davis called trials there “rigged from the start.” Marine Corps Gen. Michael Lehnert, the first GITMO commander, has called for the prison’s closure, arguing that its continued existence helps America’s enemies and “validates every negative perception of the United States.”

“In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong,” Lehnert wrote in 2013. “We squandered the goodwill of the world after we were attacked by our actions in Guantánamo, both in terms of detention and torture.”

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Bush-era Secretary of State Colin Powell, has claimed that Bush, his vice president Dick Cheney — who admitted in 2014 that innocent men were caught up in the CIA torture program — and Donald Rumsfeld, who was defense secretary, all knew the “vast majority” of GITMO detainees were innocent or no danger but held them anyway for political reasons.

GITMO proponents argue that detainees there are not subject to protections against torture under domestic and international law and that the focus should be on the horrific crimes of al-Qaeda committed on September 11, 2001. The GITMO military commissions are about the “summary execution” of nearly 3,000 people on 9/11, not about how prisoners are treated, said military prosecutor Clayton Trivett Jr., who was involved in the prosecution of some of the most high-profile Guantánamo detainees, including KSM.

Although he issued an executive order to close GITMO on his first full day in office and offered a plan to relocate its detainees to a stateside prison facility, President Barack Obama has been thwarted by popular demands to keep detainees out of the United States and by repeated congressional action to prevent him from closing the prison. Of the 780 men and boys who have been imprisoned at GITMO, 711 have been transferred and 60 remain. Nine detainees have died while in custody. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to fill the prison with “bad dudes” and to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

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