Guantánamo

9/11 defendant still suffering from CIA ‘black site’ injuries, lawyer says at Guantánamo

The Guantánamo prison photo of Saudi Mustafa al Hawsawi, accused of helping the 
9/11 hijackers with funds and travel, turned up on Middle Eastern websites. He is seen sitting on a prayer rug and posing for the International Committee of the Red Cross in prison-approved images taken for family members.
The Guantánamo prison photo of Saudi Mustafa al Hawsawi, accused of helping the 9/11 hijackers with funds and travel, turned up on Middle Eastern websites. He is seen sitting on a prayer rug and posing for the International Committee of the Red Cross in prison-approved images taken for family members. Courtesy of Guantanamo

A defense lawyer for an alleged 9/11 plotter said Thursday that his Saudi client had been rectally abused while in CIA custody — and that he continues to bleed now, at least eight years later.

Attorney Walter Ruiz made the disclosure in open court in a bid to get a military judge to intervene in the medical care of Mustafa Hawsawi, 46, accused of helping the Sept. 11 hijackers with travel and money.

Hawsawi, who was captured in March 2003 with alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, 49, was subjected to unauthorized “enhanced interrogation techniques” at the CIA’s secret prison, according to the recently released so-called Senate Torture Report. He got to Guantánamo in September 2006.

The 5-foot-4-inch man has sat on a pillow over years of pretrial hearings in the death-penalty trial of five men accused of conspiring in the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001. Thursday was the first time that Ruiz was permitted to explain it under a loosening of censorship at the court that lets lawyers talk about the released, redacted 524-page portion of the 6,200-page Senate report.

“It started somewhere between 2003 and 2006 by members and agents of our government who violated our laws and tortured. It is our responsibility now to provide the adequate medical care,” said Ruiz. He also added that, although these are death penalty proceedings, the court is obliged to ensure adequate healthcare.

Guantánamo’s prison spokesmen say war-on-terror captives get the same level of care as U.S. service members.

Ruiz specifically cited a reference to an investigation of allegations that CIA agents conducted medically unnecessary rectal exams with excessive force on two detainees, one of them Hawsawi, who afterward suffered an anal fissure, rectal prolapse and hemorrhoids.

“Some would call that sodomy,” said Ruiz, adding that “those acts caused longstanding chronic and medical conditions that have yet to be resolved.” 

Ruiz said that guards sometimes find blood in Hawsawi’s clothes. With permission of his client, Ruiz wants access to Hawsawi’s secret medical records and to consult with prison legal and medical staff, including a visiting gastrointestinal expert.

Prosecutors urged the Army judge not to intervene in Hawsawi’s healthcare, saying it is the province of professional U.S. military medical and prison officials.

“No doctor should be treating with a lawyer looking over his shoulder,” said Ed Ryan, a federal attorney on Chief Prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins’ team.

Ruiz’s remarks were the first direct mention in court of the Senate report that was released Dec. 9. This week’s hearings were stalled on the discovery that an ex-CIA black site interpreter was assigned to translate for another ex-CIA prisoner, alleged 9/11 accomplice Ramzi bin al Shibh, 42.

Despite the delays in court, eight relatives of Sept. 11 victims still said it was a worthwhile trip.

“I’m personally against the death penalty, which is a hard thing in this particular case,” said Adele Welty, who lost her New York firefighter son Tim on 9/11.

She added that the trial is about “whether or not we allow barbarians to model our behavior. If we allow that, they win.”

Hawsawi’s lawyers also want the judge to intervene in the Saudi’s conditions of confinement at the secret Camp 7 to bring them in line with the Geneva Conventions — something prosecutor Clay Trivett opposed, saying that it would be a slippery slope that could see the court litigating ice cream requests, and that it was illegal.

“In fact, he is statutorily barred from asserting the Geneva Conventions by the Military Commission Act of 2009,” Trivett said.

Lawyers for both sides also traded accusations about an episode in which eight guards forced Hawsawi back into his cell following a dispute Dec. 7, two days before the CIA report came out.

Ryan said that Hawsawi had refused to follow the guards’ instructions, dropped to the floor and fought his Army MPs, biting one through a rubber glove. Marine Lt. Col. Sean Gleason, part of the Hawsawi defense team, said that the captive had been shackled when eight guards piled on top of him, forcing him to the ground.

Gleason wants to interview the guards and investigate the episode — which was impromptu, not videotaped — in case Hawsawi is convicted and prosecutors seek to use it as proof of his dangerousness in a bid to get him executed.

His lawyer said the Saudi was 140 pounds at capture in 2003 but weighed 99 pounds in the December episode.

The judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, called recess until April 20.

The hearings ended on a strange note:

Defense lawyers — who were in court Monday when Bin al Shibh announced that he recognized that day’s in-court linguist from a CIA black site, and on Wednesday when the prosecutor confirmed that the translator had been a CIA asset — said Thursday evening that they were forbidden to say whether the linguist ever had been at Guantánamo.

Aspects of the episode were apparently retroactively classified.

Follow @CarolRosenberg on Twitter

The Miami Herald guide to the Sept. 11 war crimes trial here.

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