(CN) – The U.S. government cannot use certain statements to continue the detention of a Yemeni man at Guantanamo Bay, a federal judge ruled, finding that the prisoner’s admissions were tainted by years of torture in Jordan and Afghanistan.
Abdu Ali al Haji Sharqawi, a 37-year-old Yemen citizen, was captured in Karachi, Pakistan, in February 2002. After sitting in solitary confinement in Pakistan for three weeks, he was sent to a prison in Jordan. There he claims interrogators beat him regularly, hit the soles of his feet with a rod and threatened to electrocute him.
Next he was transferred to a so-called “dark prison” in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to a recently unsealed ruling in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
For five months he stayed in a dark, dirty cell, with loud music playing all the time. In 2004 he made it into U.S. custody at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, where he claims he was kept in isolation for two and half months in a small cell with no toilet, and was beaten by two soldiers. In August 2004, after four months at Bagram, Sharqawi arrived at Guantanamo Bay, where he remains.
In response to Sharqawi’s petition for release, the government submitted statements he made during captivity.
Sharqawi filed a motion to strike statements that he made while in custody in Pakistan, at Bagram Air Force Base and at Guantanamo Bay. The motion says Sharqawi was tortured into talking while in Pakistan, and that he was still under the shadow of his torture in Jordan and Kabul when he talked at Bagram and Guantanamo.
In an order singed May 23, Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the government to strike statements made by Sharqawi while he was in custody at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay.
“Although petitioner has failed to demonstrate that his statements were coerced, the court finds that they were not sufficiently attenuated from the coercive treatment he experienced in Jordan and Kabul,” Lamberth wrote. “Petitioner gave the statements at issue in June and July 2004 – one to two months after his arrival at Bagram in May 2004. Immediately prior to his arrival at Bagram, petitioner was subject to physical and psychological coercion in Kabul. The court is not convinced, given such a short span between petitioner’s experience in Kabul and his interviews at Bagram, that there was a ‘break in the stream of events … sufficient to insulate’ his statements from the effects of prior coercion.”
The judge reasoned that, as the government has steadfastly refused to admit or deny most of the allegations, he must believe Sharqawi’s version of events up to his arrival in U.S. custody.
“At the outset, the court finds that respondents – who neither admit nor deny petitioner’s allegations regarding his custody in Jordan and Kabul – effectively admit those allegations,” he wrote. “Accordingly, the court accepts petitioner’s allegations as true. In Jordan, petitioner experienced patent coercion during interrogations including intimidation, regular beatings, and threats of electrocution and violence. In Kabul, he was forced to endure complete darkness and continuous loud music. The Court thus finds that petitioner was subject to physical and psychological coercion in Jordan and Kabul.”
Lamberth refused, however, to strike statements Sharqawi made while in custody in Pakistan in 2002, finding that his “vague statement that he was held in solitary confinement, without more, gives no indication that he was subject to abuse, torture, or coercion.”
Neither did Lamberth believe that Sharqawi was tortured or that his statements were coerced while he was in U.S. custody at Bagram. In his ruling, the judge cites testimony from unnamed government employees that contradict Sharqawi’s account of his stay at Bagram.
“In sum, the court finds that respondents’ evidence – when compared to the brevity of petitioner’s allegation and the lack of other evidence supporting it – refutes petitioner’s allegation,” Lamberth wrote. “Bagram’s isolation cells, as described by respondents’ evidence, were approximately eight by ten or nine by nine feet and made of wood. They did not have toilets, but occupants had access to a common bathroom. Confinement in such a cell simply does not constitute torture. Because petitioner has not established that he was confined to a two-by-three-foot space, the court cannot find that the conditions of his confinement amounted to torture.”
Nonetheless, Lamberth granted Sharqawi’s petition to strike any statements he made at Bagram because of the relatively brief period of time between the Bagram admissions and his torture in Kabul.
“The Court recognizes that, upon petitioner’s arrival at Bagram, the location of his interrogations and the identity of his interrogators changed,” Lamberth wrote. “But these factors do not weigh heavily against the extremely short lapse of time between petitioner’s experience in Kabul and his subsequent statements, particularly given the length and nature of mistreatment in this case. Because respondents have failed to establish that the effects of coercion had dissipated by the time of petitioner’s interviews in June and July 2004, the court will grant petitioner’s motion to strike with respect to any statements he made while in custody at Bagram.”
Lamberth likewise agreed to strike statements Sharqawi made at Guantanamo Bay, though the prisoner has not alleged any torture, coercion or mistreatment while in custody there.
“The Court finds that petitioner’s statements at Guantanamo Bay were not sufficiently attenuated from the coercive treatment he experienced in Jordan and Kabul,” Lamberth wrote. “Although petitioner was free from coercion at Bagram or Guantanamo Bay, this does not establish that his statements at Guantanamo Bay were untainted by prior coercion.”
Lamberth ordered the government to file an amended factual return, omitting statements Sharqawi made while in custody at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, within 30 days. The orders regarding Sharqawi, of which there are four, are dated May 23 and June 8.