‘Sodomized’ Guantánamo captive to undergo rectal surgery

Guantánamo Navy base hospital on Oct. 13, 2016.
Guantánamo Navy base hospital on Oct. 13, 2016.

An alleged accomplice in the Sept. 11 terror attacks is to undergo surgery this week for decade-old damage from his “sodomy” in CIA custody, his attorney says.

Defense attorney Walter Ruiz, a Navy Reserve officer, disclosed the upcoming surgery for his client, Mustafa al Hawsawi, 48, on the eve of pretrial hearings Tuesday in the case that accuses the Saudi Arabian Hawsawi and four other men of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Ruiz said a case prosecutor informed him of the procedure over the weekend. Defense lawyers have been litigating over conditions at the remote prison and, in the case of their client, have specifically sought medical intervention to treat a rectal prolapse that has caused Hawsawi to bleed for more than a decade.

The disclosure comes days after The New York Times published a detailed account of former CIA and Guantánamo captives grappling with the aftereffects of torture.

Monday, before Ruiz’s disclosure, the senior Pentagon officer with oversight of the detention center replied this way to a question on whether there were plans to treat torture victims at Guantánamo:

“I think we’ve said all along that torture does not take place at Guantánamo Bay, no,” said Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of the U.S. Southern Command. “The medical facilities that are provided for detainees is state-of-the-art quality. It’s the same level of medical care that’s provided to our men and women in uniform.”

Ruiz said the surgery would take place at 9 p.m. Friday for apparent “force-protection reasons,” an expression that suggests it was scheduled for after-hours at the Navy base hospital, a distance from the Detention Center Zone. He said Hawsawi was denied a request to have a member of his legal team on standby near the surgery. The detention center spokesman, Navy Capt. John Filostrat, would not comment. “I prefer not to discuss the legal aspects of this issue,” he said by email Tuesday.

Hawsawi was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in March 2003 with the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and was held by the CIA until his delivery to Guantánamo in September 2006. He is alleged to have helped the hijackers with money, Western clothing, travelers’ checks and credit cards.

He has sat gingerly on a pillow at the war court since his first appearance in 2008. But the reason was not publicly known until release of a portion of the so-called Senate Torture Report on the CIA program in December 2014, which described agents using quasi-medical techniques called “rectal rehydration” and “rectal re-feeding.”

“Mr. Hawsawi was tortured in the black sites. He was sodomized,” Ruiz told reporters Monday evening, advising them to “shy away from terms like rectal penetration or rectal rehydration because the reality is it was sodomy,” he said. Since then, he said, he has had “to manually reinsert parts of his anal cavity” to defecate.

“When he has a bowel movement, he has to reinsert parts of his anus back into his anal cavity,” Ruiz said, which “causes him to bleed, causes him excruciating pain.”

As a result, the five-foot-five-inch man has fasted and at times withered to below the 100 pounds he weighed upon his arrival at Guantánamo from a CIA black site.

In court Tuesday, the judge handling the death-penalty case, Army Col. James L. Pohl, said he was aware of the upcoming medical procedure and asked whether it would interfere with Hawsawi’s ability to attend Friday’s court hearing. Ruiz replied that the procedure was to be done after court but that Hawsawi would likely voluntarily waive court attendance Friday to rest up for it.

Filostrat, the prison spokesman, would not say whether a specialist in colorectal surgery was coming to this remote base to conduct the surgery, whether the procedure could be done inside the Detention Center Zone or whether any other people at the base of nearly 6,000 residents would be having similar surgery this week.

Prison commanders have emphasized for years the analogous nature of medical care at Guantánamo, saying captives get the same treatment as U.S. service members.

The prison commander is having a portion of a closed prison building renovated for use as a medical center. But former CIA captives like Hawsawi are segregated in a clandestine lockup called Camp 7 that has been described at court as having its own medical facility, the capabilities of which are not known.

Families of eight people killed in the Sept. 11 hijackings were on base this week for resumption of the hearings toward a trial that still has no date set. In the past, relatives of victims of the accused 9/11 plotters have expressed annoyance at the diversion toward the dark sites.

Ruiz said the Saudi has other medical problems dating back to his years in the CIA black sites — including “cervical degeneration,” neck damage from being thrown into a wall, an approved interrogation tactic called “walling.” His lawyer argues that not only should his client’s neck damage be treated, but his treatment should be explored as part of an eventual trial that could decide whether to execute the five men accused of perpetrating the worst terror attack on U.S. soil.

Lawyers argue that the treatment after capture should disqualify the military court from ordering the alleged plotters’ execution.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

Additional Reading

The Miami Herald’s Sept. 11 trial guide, here.

Earlier report on the captive’s condition, here.