[Ppnews] Torture Stories Dog Guantánamo Trials

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Mar 22 19:07:32 EDT 2008


March 22 / 23, 2008

"Guards Would Grab Me by Pressure Points Behind 
My Ears, Under the Jaw and on My Neck."

Torture Stories Dog Guantánamo Trials


From the moment that the Toronto Star unleashed a 
gruesome, and previously unpublished photo of the 
chest wounds sustained by 15-year old Omar Khadr, 
after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, it 
was clear that the resumption of Khadr's 
pre-trial hearing at Guantánamo last week would 
once more raise murky issues of torture and 
untrustworthy intelligence that the 
administration -- desperate to secure a "clean" 
conviction in its much-reviled Military 
Commission process -- hoped would remain buried.

The photo preceded excerpts from Star reporter 
Michelle Shephard's long-awaited biography of 
Omar Khadr, 
Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, which does 
the most thorough job to date of humanizing the 
second youngest son of the generally 
unsympathetic Khadr family, whose late patriarch, 
Ahmed Khadr, was close to Osama bin Laden.

While serving as a terrifying trailer for the 
book, however, the photo's publication also 
heightened tensions that had surfaced in 
pre-trial hearings in November, when, after five 
years of claims, on the administration's part, 
that Khadr had been the last enemy soldier alive 
after the firefight, and had therefore thrown the 
grenade that killed a US soldier, it was revealed 
that the grenade could, in fact, have been thrown 
by one of his companions, who was alive at the 
time, but whose survival at that point had not previously been disclosed.

Omar Khadr and the fog of war

The day before Khadr's pre-trial hearings resumed 
last Friday, his tenacious military defense 
lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, duly raised 
these issues, telling journalists that the report 
of the circumstances that led to Khadr's capture, 
written by an officer identified only as "Lt. 
Col. W.," had been altered after the event to 
implicate the Canadian teenager. As Lt. Cmdr. 
Kuebler described it, the report initially said 
that the assailant who threw the grenade had been 
killed, but was then revised, about two months 
later, to say that the grenade thrower had been 
"engaged" (a change that clearly implicated 
Khadr). "We now know that story was false," Lt. 
Cmdr. Kuebler told the reporters, adding, "It's 
consistent with the proposition that the 
government manufactured evidence to make it look like Omar was guilty."

On Friday, Lt. Cmdr. Kuebler asked the judge, 
Col. Peter Brownback, to allow the defense team 
to question "Lt. Col. W." Col. Brownback not only 
agreed to this request; he also ordered 
prosecutors to give Khadr's lawyers a list of all 
US personnel who had interrogated Khadr in 
Afghanistan and Guantánamo, and to provide them 
with access to their notes, postponed the trial's 
start date (scheduled for May 5) to allow more 
time for discussions of acceptable evidence, and 
rebuffed the government-appointed prosecutors, 
who claimed, as the Miami Herald described it, 
"that they had already searched available records 
and interviewed potential witnesses, and had 
found nothing more to provide in the discovery 
phase to defense lawyers." As the Herald report 
continued, "Brownback was not persuaded," and 
"sent prosecutors back to search US State 
Department communications with Canada, 
battlefield dispatches and messages around the 
time of the 2002 firefight and other records." 
"We can't try the case until we get the discovery 
done," Col. Brownback insisted. "So if I have to 
come down here every week, I'll do it, what the heck."

Khadr alleges torture

Capping another difficult week in the 
administration's attempts to prosecute Khadr, his 
lawyers released an eight-page affidavit, in 
which Khadr himself described his treatment at 
the hands of both the Americans -- in Afghanistan 
and at Guantánamo -- and the Canadian agents who 
also visited him at Guantánamo. Partly redacted 
by US censors, the document nevertheless reveals 
extensive allegations of abuse that, in some cases, seem to amount to torture.

In addition to Khadr's previously documented 
claims that he was threatened with rape and was 
used as a human mop at Guantánamo to wipe up his 
own urine after he had been held for hours in a 
stress position and had soiled himself, he 
reported that he "told a Canadian delegation in 
2003 that the Americans 'would torture' him -- so 
he told them whatever they wanted' to hear, but 
that "The Canadians called me a liar, and I began 
to sob. They screamed at me and told me they 
could not do anything for me." In other sections, 
he described how, after he embarked on a hunger 
strike at Guantánamo, "Guards would grab me by 
pressure points behind my ears, under the jaw and 
on my neck. On a scale of one to 10, I would say the pain was an 11."

Khadr also described abuse that took place in the 
days after his capture, in particular at the 
hands of a Hispanic MP, who "would often 
[redacted]. He would tell nurses not to 
[redacted] since he said that I had killed an 
American soldier. He would also [redacted] me 
quite often." He also reported that something was 
done to his eyes -- "Sometimes they would 
[redacted] particularly since both my eyes were 
badly injured" -- and described being kneed 
"repeatedly in the thighs," a brutal technique, 
known as the common peroneal strike, whose 
overuse in Bagram led to the murder of two 
prisoners, Mullah Habibullah, and a taxi driver 
named Dilawar, in December 2002.

This comment adds to the suspicion that Khadr was 
the victim of torture in Bagram, as it was also 
revealed last week that one of his interrogators 
was Sgt. Joshua Claus, who was later charged, 
along with 14 others, of various crimes, 
including assault and "maltreatment of a 
detainee" in connection with the murder of the 
two men, and was sentenced to five months in jail in 2006.

Mohamed Jawad

Omar Khadr was not the only defendant last week 
to raise the spectre of torture to haunt the 
Military Commissions. On Wednesday, Mohamed 
Jawad, an Afghan who, according to his own 
account, was only 16 when he was seized after 
allegedly throwing a grenade that wounded two US 
soldiers and an Afghan interpreter, said, as 
Carol Williams described it in the Los Angeles 
Times, "that he had been tortured while in US 
custody at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan after 
his arrest, and that he had been mistreated in 
Guantánamo as well." "The American government 
said the Taliban has been very cruel in 
Afghanistan, that they killed people without any 
trial and imprisoned people without trial," Jawad 
told the judge, Col. Ralph Kohlmann. "When I was 
in detention at Bagram, Americans killed three 
people. They beat people and arrested us without 
trial. We're not given any rights."

This was a departure in some ways. As I reported 
in a detailed article when he was first charged 
last October, Jawad had not alleged that he had 
been tortured by US forces during his tribunal 
and his military reviews at Guantánamo, which 
were convened, in the first instance, to assess 
whether he had been correctly designated as an 
"enemy combatant" when he was captured, and 
subsequently to assess whether he still 
constituted a threat to the US or its interests. 
He had, however, claimed that a false confession 
had been forced out of him by the Afghan police 
who first captured him. "[T]hey tortured me," he 
said in 2005. "They beat me. They beat me a lot. 
One person told me, 'If you don't confess, they 
are going to kill you'. So, I told them anything they wanted to hear."

Although he explicitly stated in his review, "I 
have never seen or endured any torture in Bagram 
or here in Cuba by the Americans," it's possible 
that he had previously failed to mention being 
tortured by US forces because he had concluded 
that it was wiser not to raise the topic in front 
of the US military officers who appeared to offer 
him a chance -- however slim -- of escaping from 
Guantánamo for good. It certainly seems unlikely 
that Jawad was not subjected to abuse while at 
Bagram, as the period that he was there -- from 
mid-December 2002, two months after Omar Khadr 
left for Guantánamo -- is during that same 
period, from summer 2002 until sometime in 2003, 
at the earliest, that the prison was the venue 
for particularly savage and routine violence that 
led to the murders mentioned above, and, it 
should be noted, to an apparent third homicide 
mentioned not only by Mohamed Jawad, but also by 
the released British prisoners Moazzam Begg, 
Richard Belmar and Jamal Kiyemba, as I discuss in 
my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 
774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison.

This alone would make his trial problematical, 
but Jawad himself raised further hurdles to what 
the Pentagon clearly hoped would be a 
straightforward process by declaring the 
proceedings illegal and refusing to accept 
representation by his military lawyer, Col. Mike 
Sawyers. Apparently dragged from his cell to 
attend the hearing, and wearing the infamous 
orange garb that, for many years, has been 
reserved for those ruled "non-compliant," he told 
Col. Kohlmann, "My right has not been given to 
me. I have not violated any international law. 
There are many accusations against me they don't 
make any sense I am a human being." He added, as 
Steven Edwards described it for the Canwest News 
Service, that he "continued to be treated 
unjustly and interrogated, and that he wanted the 'whole world' to know it."

Despite being spurned by his client, Col. Sawyers 
was vigorous in his defense outside the 
courtroom, explaining to reporters that western 
concepts of justice were "completely foreign" to 
Jawad, and making a statement on his behalf that 
also resonates with the case of Omar Khadr. "I 
believe this is the direct result of taking a 16- 
or 17-year-old boy and putting him in confinement 
with no contact with the outside world," Col. 
Sawyers said. "He has been in a 
three-by-seven-(foot) cell I do not believe he 
understands the proceedings I don't know if I 
were given ten years I could explain it to him."

With Jawad's refusal to engage with the 
Commissions (asked to enter a plea, he had, by 
that point, "slumped onto the defense table and 
refused to respond to Kohlmann's questions") and 
with Col. Sawyers' active duty about to run out, 
the case is unlikely to resume in the near 
future. As Col. Steve David, the Commissions' 
chief defense lawyer, explained, he will not be 
able to assign Jawad a new lawyer for some time, 
because, unlike the prosecution, which has a full 
roster of 30 lawyers, he has only nine lawyers on 
duty, who are already struggling to cope with their caseload.

Ahmed al-Darbi

The last of the cases considered last week -- 
that of Ahmed Mohammed al-Darbi, a 33-year old 
Saudi -- also failed to advance the process. The 
brother-in-law of one of the 9/11 hijackers, 
al-Darbi, described as "polite and responsive" 
during his arraignment, also refused to enter a 
plea, and was undecided about whether or not to 
accept the services of his military lawyer. The 
administration can, perhaps, count itself lucky 
that al-Darbi did not wish to speak out, although 
this is probably only a matter of putting off the inevitable.

Seized in Azerbaijan, al-Darbi was rendered to 
Afghanistan, and also ended up in Bagram, where, 
he later alleged, an interrogator named Damien 
Corsetti, known as "Monster" or "The King of 
Torture," abused prisoners by poking them in the 
face with his naked penis and threatening them 
with sexual assault. Corsetti was later charged 
with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, assault 
and performing an indecent act with another 
person, but although he was cleared of all the 
charges in June 2006, al-Darbi's presence at 
Bagram during the period that both Omar Khadr and 
Mohamed Jawad were there suggests that the 
well-chronicled torture at the prison during that 
period -- which Corsetti discussed, with 
refreshing frankness, in a recent interview -- will also surface in his trial.

If, as Carol Williams suggested, Mohamed Jawad's 
case had been pushed forward before those of the 
six men (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) who 
were charged last month in connection with the 
9/11 attacks, because the process of finding 
lawyers for those men has only just begun, and 
because Jawad's case -- and, by extension, that 
of Ahmed al-Darbi -- were presumed to be easier 
to win, last weeks' events have served only to 
rock the Commissions' legitimacy once more, 
highlighting allegations of torture in Bagram as 
a counter-point to the well-chronicled torture of 
those charged in connection with 9/11 in secret 
prisons run by the CIA (in five of the cases) and 
in Guantánamo in the case of the sixth, Mohammed al-Qahtani.

Ibrahim al-Qosi and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul

Nor, it seems, is it likely that torture will be 
sidestepped in the cases of the other prisoners 
awaiting arraignment. The Sudanese prisoner 
Ibrahim al-Qosi and the Yemeni Ali Hamza 
al-Bahlul (both charged last month for their 
alleged connections with al-Qaeda) are well-known 
to those who have been following the Commissions 
since they first spluttered into life in the 
summer of 2003. Both were previously charged in 
the first round of the trials, which were struck 
down as illegal by the Supreme Court in June 
2006, without either man having had the 
opportunity to discuss the details of their 
treatment, but in a hearing in 2004 al-Bahlul's 
military defense lawyer, Maj. Tom Fleener, told 
the judge, Col. Peter Brownback, "I believe Mr. 
al-Bahlul was tortured," adding that it was 
"going to be an issue" in any trial faced by his 
client. Similar territory was covered by Lt. Col. 
Sharon Shaffer, who was assigned to represent 
al-Qosi. According to a report in the Nation in 
December 2005, she "characterized his treatment 
as possibly torture but certainly inhumane 
treatment; he was held in stress positions for 
protracted periods, subjected to military dogs and sexually humiliated."

If there is a "clean" case that can be presented 
to the Commissions without ensnaring the 
administration in ever more lengthy and damaging 
allegations relating to the use of torture by US 
forces, it has yet to be found. Just possibly, 
however, the Pentagon's announcement, during the 
fallout from Mohamed Jawad's boycott of his 
arraignment, that another Afghan --Mohammed Kamin 
-- would also face a trial by Military Commission 
was intended to fulfil the administration's 
elusive dream: the successful prosecution of a 
prisoner who will not claim that he was tortured.

Mohammed Kamin

On the surface, Mohammed Kamin fulfils this 
criterion, although he also seems, like many 
before him, to be an unworthy candidate for any 
kind of war crimes trial at all. In his charge 
sheet, he is accused of "providing material 
support for terrorism"; specifically by receiving 
training at "an al-Qaeda training camp," 
conducting surveillance on US and coalition 
military bases and activities, planting two mines 
under a bridge, and launching missiles at the 
city of Khost while it was occupied by US and 
coalition forces. He is not charged with harming, 
let along killing US forces, and were it not for 
his supposed al-Qaeda connection -- he apparently 
stated in interrogation that he was "recruited by 
an al-Qaeda cell leader" -- it would, I think, be 
impossible to make the case that he was involved 
in "terrorism" at all. As it is, I'm prepared to 
state that his case seems to me to demonstrate 
how hopelessly blurred the distinctions between 
military resistance (aka insurgency) and 
terrorism have become, so that anyone caught 
fighting US occupation is not engaged in a war 
(with its own well-established laws) but is 
automatically part of a global terrorist movement.

In a courtroom, of course, it may well emerge 
that, like all the others mentioned above, 
Mohammed Kamin will reveal -- or at least allege 
-- that he too was tortured, adding to the 
increasing suspicion that there is no corner of 
the post-9/11 prison system that is beyond the 
cold hand of the torturer, whose actions were 
sanctioned at the highest levels of the 
government. In the full glare of the world's 
media, the Military Commissions continue to 
expose the very torture and abuse that the 
administration has strived so hard to conceal, 
and I cannot see how they can ever result in a 
prosecution that will be recognized as valid. As 
the Bush administration counts down its last 
months in office, the only solution, it seems to 
me, is to maintain the pressure on the next 
administration to move the trials to federal courts on the US mainland.

Andy Worthington 
is a British historian, and the author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America's Illegal Prison'. He can be 
reached at: <mailto:andy at andyworthington.co.uk>andy at andyworthington.co.uk

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