Alleged 9/11 plotter testifies: Guantánamo noises, vibrations are real, they drugged me for protesting

Ramzi bin al Shibh poses for the International Red Cross at Guantánamo in an image released in August 2010.
Ramzi bin al Shibh poses for the International Red Cross at Guantánamo in an image released in August 2010.

An accused Sept. 11 plot deputy testified for more than two hours Wednesday that someone really is intentionally, systematically making noise and vibrations inside his maximum-security prison. He also said that, when he protested, a U.S. Navy psychiatrist drugged him.

“They make all my life ... upside down. I can’t concentrate. I can’t read. I can’t sleep. I can’t pray. I can’t do anything,” Ramzi bin al Shibh said, unshackled in the war court witness box at the military judge’s left side.

The 43-year-old Yemeni has been protesting the disruptions for years. He called it a calculated campaign of sleep deprivation to prevent him from helping defense attorneys prepare for the death-penalty trial. He is one of five former CIA prisoners here charged with 2,976 counts of murder and conspiracy as alleged plotters of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Army Col. James L. Pohl, the judge, will decide nothing this week. He said he’ll hear from two other Camp 7 captives at hearings in April.

Prosecutor Clay Trivett suggested that Bin al Shibh was “lying ... fighting the jihad against the guards in the camp.” At one point the prosecutor asked Bin al Shibh about his sleep patterns, then inquired if he sometimes dreams of the victims of Sept. 11, 2001. His lawyer objected; the judge cut him off.

Bin al Shibh was clear and spoke entirely in English except for his opening prayer. He came to court in a white tunic topped by an obsolete U.S. Navy camouflage jacket, a black-and-white checked shawl decorated with Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. He fingered prayer beads during his testimony.

He said he thought the noises and vibrations were part of a pattern of sleep-deprivation punishment that began in the CIA “black sites” for not cooperating with his captors. “They tried to turn me against my brothers. That’s all,” he said, at one point glancing in the direction of the alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was captured six months later.

“Before somebody else was captured I was something special,” he also said. “They tried these things until now.”

At one point the prosecutor suggested a noise emanating from behind a wall with a toilet was a toilet problem. “No,” the Yemeni replied, “I know it from the black sites.”

Later, he said, when Guantánamo prison staff cut the power — for example during hurricanes — the vibrations and noises cease.

Bin al Shibh has frequently spoken to the judge in court about the problem, sometimes shouting at him and on at least four occasions being ejected for his out-of-order protests. But this was the first time a former “black site” captive took the war court witness stand.

On occasion he referenced his four years in CIA custody before he got to Guantánamo. But it was an effort to describe the gate entering the clandestine Camp 7 holding15 formerly disappeared CIA captives that caused the judge or the security expert at his elbow to hit an audio kill switch.

Briefly, troops cleared courtroom observers, including 9/11 families, from a gallery where people listen on a 40-second delay, while the judge sorted it out.

The Yemeni resumed his descriptions of the disruptions — fence banging from the recreation yard, buzzing, vibrations from his bed when he tried to sleep, in his seat when he tried to read, on the floor when he stood in prayer. He said CIA agents did the same during his 2002-06 interrogation and custody in overseas prisons.

In questioning from defense attorney James Harrington about “artificial bird noises,” something the military agrees were used, Bin al Shibh said he complained to staff, then a female military psychiatrist arrived and gave him an injection that left him “dead in my bed,” unable to pray, eat.

“They killed me, the worst time in my life,” he said, adding “worse than the black site,” which had U.S. psychiatrists, too. 

Drug-free now and clearheaded, he said, Bin al Shibh called the doctor a “war criminal” and a “monster.”

In follow-up questioning, Trivett offered that the psychiatrist was from the U.S. Navy and that Bin al Shibh suffered “tardive dyskinesia.” You “felt dead, drooled a little bit from your right side,” said Trivett, adding that during that time Bin al Shibh no longer complained of noises and vibrations.

Bin al Shibh described it as a fuzzy time.

He said the military switched him to oral medication around the time his military defense attorney protested at his 2008 arraignment, during the Bush-era war court.

On questioning from both sides, Bin al Shibh admitted to bad behavior at the clandestine Camp 7, something he blamed on his unanswered protests to the on-again, off-again noises and vibrations — damaging security cameras in 2007 and 2010, calling a female guard a “slut.” He denied, however, threatening to cut off the head of one guard and offering to help some guards join ISIS.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

Link to the Miami Herald’s Sept. 11 trial Who’s Who Guide, here