Judge to probe Guantánamo’s no-Skype policy for ex-CIA prisoners

In March 2014, a soldier showed reporters the cell at Guantánamo Camp Echo where certain captives are allowed to have video chats with family.
In March 2014, a soldier showed reporters the cell at Guantánamo Camp Echo where certain captives are allowed to have video chats with family. El Nuevo Herald

A military judge agreed to probe policy at the prison’s most secretive lockup on Wednesday, ordering witnesses to explain why the accused USS Cole bomber can’t get a delayed video or phone chat with his parents.

Air Force Col. Vance Spath, the judge, told prosecutors to provide prison camp commander Navy Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, if not someone more suitable, to testify by next month’s hearing.

A day earlier, someone at Guantánamo’s secret prison advised the accused terrorist, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 49, that plans were in the works to give him a time-delayed phone call with his parents within 30 days, his lawyer disclosed.

A case prosecutor, Navy Lt. Paul Morris, called the disclosure “unfortunate” and premature. He said “there is an ongoing evolution to try to include things” but signaled that no policy change was imminent.

“If people are out talking about this process with a detainee then they should come here,” Spath announced. He instructed the case prosecutor to identify the person at the prison who had the conversation with Nashiri, perhaps incorrectly, on coming detention center policy.

He told the U.S. government to arrange for that person and for Cozad or a substitute by Thursday’s hearing. Otherwise, he said, he would issue an order.

At issue is a longstanding defense request that Nashiri get a video chat with his “elderly parents” back home in Saudi Arabia, as a mental health consideration. He hasn’t spoken to them since before his 2002 capture and disappearance into the CIA dark sites, where he was waterboarded and interrogated at gunpoint and with a revving drill.

At Guantánamo, he faces a death-penalty trial, perhaps next year, on charges he orchestrated al-Qaida’s Oct. 12, 2000 suicide bombing of the warship off Yemen. Seventeen U.S. sailors died.

A U.S. military medical board found he suffers Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. Two doctors recommended the video calls with family to help him cope with it. One testified at court that he had been subjected to “physical, psychological and sexual torture.”

But it is believed that none of the former CIA prisoners have been permitted telephone or video calls since they were brought to Guantánamo in 2006. They are kept mostly incommunicado at a mysterious prison called Camp 7. Their writings and conversations are censored to make sure the world doesn’t know what the clandestine spy agency did to them or where — still considered national security secrets.

Spath sounded puzzled by the inability of the U.S. military to arrange a phone call with suitable monitoring. Courtroom audio is delayed by 40 seconds with a censor at a switch in case former CIA captives try to spill state secrets.

He said the witnesses should not discuss technical challenges but explain potential security problems for Nashiri.

And he took a swipe at the prosecution for withholding from the defense attorneys the curious sounding “unfortunate” contact between Nashiri and prison administration officials about a potential change in policy.

“When you all heard that Mr. Nashiri was told he was gonna get a call home, you should’ve told the defense,” he said.

Case prosecutor Justin Sher said his side didn’t consider it appropriate to share it until they investigated. To which the judge replied that they were going to hear it from Nashiri anyway.

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