Abuse claims cloud war court

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- In another war court case clouded by allegations of military abuse, a Saudi captive who swears he was brutalized by Army interrogators in Afghanistan was arraigned Thursday by a judge who presided over the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse prosecution.

Also Thursday, a Navy defense lawyer accused a senior Army officer -- identified only as ''Lt. Col. W'' -- of altering evidence in the case of Canadian captive Omar Khadr, accused of murder in a battlefield grenade attack.

The back-to-back developments illustrate how allegations of military abuse have emerged as a persistent defense theme in the joint Pentagon and Justice Department effort to stage the first U.S. war crimes tribunals since World War II.

In Washington, the American Civil Liberties Union sued for public release of other detainees' now-censored description of alleged torture in CIA custody.

''The whole system was set up to use torture evidence, but keep the evidence of the torture out,'' said veteran Guantánamo observer Jumana Musa, an Amnesty International attorney. ``So any defense lawyer worth his salt is going to raise that in the course of the proceedings.''

At the war court, reporters got their first glimpse of Ahmed Darbi, 33, who was formally charged as an alleged al Qaeda co-conspirator in an ill-fated plot to blow up a boat in the Strait of Hormuz.

A soft-spoken Saudi, he was wearing the white prison camp uniform of a cooperative detainee and was led into the court unshackled and agreed to work with his Pentagon appointed lawyer.

Darbi's brother-in-law, according to the Defense Department, was one of five Arabs who was on the suicide mission that slammed Flight 77 into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. In all, 187 people were killed.

His defense lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles said the man has sworn in a military court deposition that he was hung by his arms at the U.S. prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, and repeatedly beaten by military intelligence guards, treatment portrayed in the Oscar winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side.

Such testimony, if it makes it to court, will be familiar territory to Darbi's judge, Army Col. James Pohl, who presided over the 2004 and 2005 courts martial of several guards in the Abu Ghraib, Iraq, prisoner abuse scandal.

In that case, Pohl declared the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq a crime scene and forbade its demolition.

Thursday, Pohl instructed Pentagon prosecutors to make sure that Broyles got to work with Darbi on the defense. Meantime, another commissions judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, also issued a series of orders to help defense attorneys in the Khadr case, which is slated for trial on May 5.

He ordered the Pentagon to go back and sift through U.S. State Department communications between the United States and Canada, U.S. forces' battlefield message traffic in Afghanistan around the time of Khadr's capture and to identify all known witnesses of the firefight -- to let Khadr's lawyers see if anything might help the Canadian's defense.

Prosecutors protested, saying that that they had already reviewed the documents sought by the Khadr team -- and the documents would not help the defense.

Khadr, whose father was an alleged al Qaeda fundraiser, was captured at age 15 in a July 2002 firefight in eastern Afghanistan. He allegedly threw a grenade that killed aU.S. soldier.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque and a U.S. soldier then shot Khadr twice in the back. -- the bullets tore through his chest.

But Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler told the judge that documents uncovered through the process had revealed two versions of the grenade episode written two months apart, both written by the on-scene commander:-- the first said the grenade-thrower had been killed on the spot. The second said said the grenade thrower had survived -- directly implicating Khadr.

Based on the re-write, Kuebler said, it appeared that ``the government manufactured evidence to make it look like Omar was guilty.

Army Col. Bruce Pagel, a deputy prosecutor, flatly denied that the military manufactured the evidence.

Pagel could not predict how many, if any cases would be brought to verdict before the Bush administration expires in January.

President Bush championed the special military tribunals -- neither courts martial nor federal trials -- to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks plus other al Qaeda and Taliban members whom they call unlawful combatants.