Gitmo Defense Attorneys Welcome Torture Expert

     GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (CN) – Lawyers for the accused financier of the 9/11 terrorist attacks said Friday they will continue to fight to give the United Nations special rapporteur on torture acceptable access to Guantanamo Bay detention facilities.
     Speaking at a press conference Friday afternoon, James Connell, civilian attorney for Ammar al Baluchi, said he has an indication from U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez that Mendez would take a “compromise” that would give him access to some, though not all, of the detainees at the high-security Camp Seven.
     “If the conditions of confinement are as generous, as safe, as humane as JTF GTMO claims, then I would think they would welcome validation from an outside source such as the special rapporteur,” Connell said at a press conference, referring to the military organization in charge of the detention facilities.
     The United States offered Mendez a chance to come evaluate the camp in 2012, but only on the limited tour given to the media and other groups. In a supplement to Connell’s May 12 filing seeking to compel the military to allow him to visit the camp, Mendez said the “surface-level” visit would be insufficient.
     “I declined that invitation and have continued to refuse to visit Guantanamo under the conditions offered by the Department of Defense, while insisting on an invitation under terms that are consistent with those established by the U.N. Human Rights Council for all Special Procedures,” Mendez wrote. “My mandate from that Council requires me to demand the same conditions for my visit on every country equally.”
     But on Friday, Connell said Mendez had softened his position slightly, indicating he would be willing to accept a visit that would only give him access to the five accused 9/11 conspirators and the high-security Camp Seven, where al-Baluchi and other high-value detainees are kept.
     “It would remain for another day for him to seek access to the inmates in Guantanamo other than the five who are involved in this case,” Connell said.
     The U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture is tasked with alerting states to people at risk of being tortured, undertaking “fact-finding” visits to countries and submitting reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
     At a press conference wrapping up the week of hearings in the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators, Connell specifically cited a debate that raged through the proceedings over how often and in what manner detainees should be able to communicate with their families as an example of ongoing poor treatment at the camp.
     “Indefinite detention is, itself, a form of abuse,” Connell said Friday. “If it were taking place in a nicely appointed apartment in Miami, if it is indefinite detention it is a form of abuse.”
     Connell said his case could be heard when hearings for the accused 9/11 conspirators are set to resume in July.
     A sticking point could come with the unusual rules of the military commission that hears the case. Judge Col. James Pohl, the military judge who presides over the proceedings, does not have total authority to force the government to allow Mendez into the camp, Connell said.
     Instead, Pohl can offer the government the choice between allowing Mendez in or pausing the prosecution of a case that already threatens to stretch into the next decade, Connell said.
     Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, chief prosecutor in the case, later told reporters he would let the briefings speak for themselves on the issue, but insisted the camp conforms to international law and standards.
     “The detention facility in Guantanamo complies with, because it is our obligation to do so, common article three of the Geneva Conventions,” Martins said. “The fine soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines who are tending to the humane care and custody of the detainees are accountable to their commanding officer. The commanding officers are accountable to a chain of command all the way up through our appointed and elected leaders. Those leaders themselves are accountable to the United States and the law. All of us are accountable to our oaths to our Constitution and the law.”

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