GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- An Army psychiatrist testified Sunday that Guantánamo doctors, with no government account of what the CIA did to the accused USS Cole bomber, offered the captive a range of treatments for his mental health problems, from anti-depressants to exposure therapy.
The doctor, an Army major who was board-certified in psychiatry in 2012, said the man awaiting a death-penalty trial didn’t agree to any kind of therapy and since participation was essential, it never happened.
Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 49, was held for four years by the CIA and, according to unclassified abuse reports, was interrogated with a waterboard and power drill and subjected to a mock execution. But the doctor testified, anonymously and by video-link from Fort Bliss, Texas, that medical records he consulted provided no CIA detention history on any of his patients.
“I have just assumed that they probably went through some form of hell at some point in their life,” said the doctor, who wore the battle-dress uniform of an Army major and was called Doctor 97 in court.
Last year, a court-appointed U.S. military medical board was authorized to see information about Nashiri’s 2002-06 secret CIA detention and diagnosed him as suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and major depression. Last week, an expert on treating torture survivors, who was likewise given Top Secret access to learn about Nashiri’s CIA treatment, diagnosed Nashiri as a victim of “ physical, psychological and sexual torture.”
Sunday, Doctor 97 said he wasn’t privy to what happened to Nashiri before Guantánamo beyond “suspicions” but disagreed with the expert. The doctor recently switched Nashiri’s primary diagnosis to Narcissistic Personality Disorder, finding that more apt than “some stressor that happened years ago.”
“His experience with me,” the psychiatrist said, “he was not demonstrating symptoms at that time when I was seeing him of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
The psychiatrist also said Guantánamo doctors prescribed Nashiri a series of anti-depressants and offered him psychotherapy and exposure therapy for an anxiety disorder. The treatment required a commitment to cooperate because he could get worse before he got better.
The doctor described exposure therapy as a patient’s agreeing to be intentionally exposed to things that trigger anxiety to re-calibrate his brain’s fear center, “to become more normalized, so in the future those same triggers will not cause the degree of anxiety or negative response or may not cause any anxiety whatsoever.”
At issue is a defense claim — Nashiri’s lawyers describe it as medical malpractice — that Guantánamo prison’s military doctors have not treated him for the trauma he suffered at the hands of the CIA. His lawyers want the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, to order specialized treatment, and asked Pohl to order training of Guantánamo medical staff treating former CIA prisoners by the torture expert who testified, Dr. Sondra Crosby.
Navy Lt. Bryan Davis, a case prosecutor, told the judge he never should have heard from the doctors in the first place. Nobody argued that Nashiri was not competent to face trial, Davis said, and the judge shouldn’t intrude in the military’s running of Guantánamo prison camp.
Davis also argued that Nashiri got adequate healthcare.
In one exchange with the psychiatrist the prosecutor asked if Nashiri “received care in accordance with the standard of practice in the clinical guidelines.”
“Absolutely,” the doctor replied.
Nashiri, awaiting a death-penalty trial, is accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s Oct. 12, 2000 suicide bombing of the Cole warship off Yemen. Seventeen American sailors died.
The military judge in the USS Cole bombing case called the rare Sunday war court session to wrap up a week of hearings once the military located the vacationing Army psychiatrist who spent seven months assigned to Guantánamo’s clandestine Camp 7 prison for former CIA captives.
The hearings resume after Memorial Day with a prosecution effort to scale back the judge’s sweeping order to the government to give defense lawyers some of the CIA’s most guarded secrets about its former black site program — including locations, dates, the identities of medical personnel and cables that discussed how to waterboard and use other “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Nashiri.
The prosecutors wrote in their sealed motion to reconsider, according to Nashiri defense attorney Rick Kammen, that if Pohl, the judge, doesn’t relent, they’ll appeal outside Guantánamo — a development that will likely postpone the trial until next year. It’s now scheduled to start in December.
Sundays are usually a day off for most of the 2,200 troops and civilians assigned to work at the detention center of 154 detainees. Typical pastimes include church, golf and all-you-can-eat brunch at the BayView Club.
But for the hearing the base was a little less sleepy with soldiers donning battle dress and patrolling the Camp Justice compound and adjacent media center.
While rare, this was not the first time troops held a Sunday war court session. In 2010, a seven-officer U.S. military jury went to church at Guantánamo then to deliberations in the case of Canadian “child soldier” Omar Khadr. They sentenced him to a symbolic 40 years.