Guantanamo ex-commander rejects charges about torment by U.S. guards
By Lacey Ann Johnson
FORT MEADE, Md. (Reuters) – Accusations that Guantanamo Bay guards tormented a suspected Sept. 11 plotter are not credible, a former prison commander testified during a pre-trial hearing on Friday.
Yemeni defendant Ramzi Bin al Shibh has said that electronic devices hidden inside the walls of his cell at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba produced tremors and banging noises, disrupting his sleep for years.
A detainee from Somalia, Guleed Hassan Ahmed, took the stand at the hearing on Thursday to echo Bin al Shibh’s complaints.
The former commander, who testified under an alias and who had overseen Camp Seven, the secret part of the prison where former Central Intelligence Agency captives are held, said Bin al Shibh was responsible for about 90 percent of prisoner complaints there.
Defense attorney James Harrington asked the commander why no one investigated the vast majority of Bin al Shibh’s complaints. He replied: “There was no need to investigate it. We didn’t deem it was credible.”
Bin al Shibh is known for cursing at guards, outbursts and threatening to have people’s relatives beheaded, said the officer, who oversaw Camp Seven from August 2015 to May.
The former commander said he investigated and found no machinery within the walls of Bin al Shibh’s cell, other than plumbing.
Bin al Shibh is among five men being tried for conspiring to help hijack airliners that slammed into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001. Almost 3,000 people died in the attacks.
Defense attorneys had called Ahmed to testify in an attempt to prove that prison staff have ignored a 2013 court order to stop harassing Bin al Shibh. Guards have denied the abuse allegations.
The death penalty case against the five suspects has been plagued by repeated delays. The men were arraigned on current charges in 2012 and have been in U.S. custody for more than 12 years.
In a news conference after the hearing, defense lawyer James Connell said he thought the trial would start by late 2019.
Defense attorneys also said they were trying to invite the United Nations’ special investigator on torture, Juan Mendez, to Guantanamo Bay to investigate conditions.
There are 80 prisoners still at the Cuban base, mostly from Yemen.
The next session of the pre-trial hearing is scheduled for July. Reuters monitored the proceedings over closed-circuit television at a press room at Fort Meade, outside Washington.
(Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)