Harsh Cross Delays Gitmo Inmate’s Testimony

     GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (CN) – The government’s harsh cross-examination of an earlier witness in pretrial proceedings for the five accused 9/11 conspirators quashed planned testimony Thursday from a suspected al-Qaida member not seen publically since the CIA seized him in 2002.
     Abu Zubaydah, whom the government claims is a former high-ranking member of al-Qaida, was scheduled to be the second detainee to testify Thursday that accused 9/11 conspirator Ramzi bin al Shibh is not imagining the disruptive sounds and vibrations he claims harass him in the prison camp.
     But after seeing Ed Ryan, trial counsel for the government, ask fellow detainee Hassan Guleed if he was a member of al-Qaida who considered the United States his enemy, attorneys for bin al Shibh and Zubaydah pulled the plug on Zubaydah’s testimony before it began.
     After briefly meeting with Ryan, bin al Shibh’s civilian attorney Jim Harrington recommended Zubaydah’s testimony be delayed. Judge Col. James Pohl, who presides over the case, told the military members in the courtroom not to bring in Zubaydah, who was waiting outside.
     Harrington later told reporters the meeting with Ryan and Navy Cmdr. Patrick Flor, Zubaydah’s military attorney, was an attempt to figure out how to get Zubaydah on the stand, but that it didn’t get far as Ryan would have needed to abandon some of the questions he wanted to ask.
     Flor said Zubaydah was disappointed to learn he would not testify, especially considering how long it has been since he has been in public.
     “If he would have been able to walk in the courtroom, that would have been the first time he would have been able to walk unshackled that far in 14 years,” Flor said.
     Ryan delved deeply into Guleed’s alleged transgressions during his cross-examination earlier in the day. Harrington objected to multiple questions, wondering what Ryan’s goal was.
     “I plan to spend a lot of time on this man’s bias, I’ll tell you that right now,” Ryan said in court before questioning Guleed.
     In response to his question, Guleed told Ryan he considers the United States his “friends” because they give him food in his prison camp.
     The government says Guleed is an “admitted member” of al-Qaida who cased U.S. military bases for potential attacks. Like Zubaydah, he has never been charged with a crime.
     When Ryan told Pohl he planned to venture into similar territory to assess Zubaydah’s bias against the United States, Harrington suggested it would be better if the testimony waited until a later hearing. That way the parties would have a chance to file briefs on what to do with Harrington’s direct examination if the detainee exercised his Fifth Amendment rights, Harrington said.
     Flor later told reporters outside the courtroom he had been under the “strong belief” that Ryan’s cross-examination would be “very limited,” but that Guleed’s treatment changed that perception. Harrington confirmed this, saying the government was restricted in what it could ask when bin al Shibh testified about the noises in February.
     Harrington was optimistic Zubaydah will be called in July, when the case is set for another round of hearings.
     Even without Zubaydah taking the stand, Harrington was able to put testimony on the record that could help establish the noises and vibrations his client has experienced in the camp are not products of a tortured mind.
     Guleed confirmed that he has experienced the same disruptive noises and vibrations that bin al Shibh routinely complains of. Guleed said they plagued him last night, while Harrington said bin al Shibh experienced them in the days leading up to this week’s hearings as well.
     “We have mental torture at Camp Seven,” Guleed said in court, referring to the highest security camp on the base where he and other high-level detainees are kept.
     Zubaydah was expected to give similar testimony Thursday afternoon after the daily break for lunch and prayer.
     “They both have experiences in the camp that are relevant to what Ramzi has experienced,” Harrington said earlier this week. “They have different experiences than each other but they complement what he has said.”
     Bin al Shibh pointed his attorneys to both Guleed and Zubaydah as people who could testify to the noises and vibrations.
     Harrington said it was “not difficult” to convince the two detainees to testify. After requesting permission from the base and the prosecution, Harrington interviewed the detainees, who soon agreed to go before the judge to tell their stories.
     Guleed told Harrington in court the noises and vibrations he experiences are ongoing and get worse if he complains about them. In addition to bin al Shibh, who has complained of the disturbances in court filings before, Guleed said alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammad also experiences the problems.
     Guleed also testified to a chemical smell he experienced in the camp, an allegation bin al Shibh has not made.
     “Every day, every minute, every month, every year,” Guleed said, when Harrington asked how often the noises and vibrations occur.
     Harrington later said bin al Shibh complained of the smells when he first arrived at the base.
     In November, Pohl responded to bin al Shibh’s complaints by ordering the government to stop the noises and vibrations, but the detainee says the order has not worked.
     Bin al Shibh described the sounds as banging on the walls of his cell and the fence outside, while Guleed said it sounds like someone banging on his roof with a hammer.
     Harrington said the disruptions have left his client ill-prepared to participate in his defense.
     “This has interfered with his ability to work with us and we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about this issue with him,” Harrington said earlier this week. “And it’s time really that should be spent in preparing his defense for this trial, instead we have to focus enormous time, energy and resources on trying to stop this problem.”
     Bin al Shibh, Guleed, Zubaydah and Mohammad all are held in Camp Seven, the most secure detention facility on the remote military base.
     Guleed said he can sometimes hear bin al Shibh complaining to guards about the disruptions and sometimes joins in, though he has long abandoned trying to get help of his own because it only makes things worse.
     Like most issues in the case against the five men accused of plotting the 9/11 terrorist attacks, torture is heavily intertwined with the complaints of noises and vibrations bin al Shibh complains of.
     The Senate Torture Report found Zubaydah was the first detainee subjected to some of the CIA’s harshest torture techniques, including waterboarding, forced confinement and prolonged isolation.
     Guleed made more than one reference to his time in CIA black sites in his testimony Thursday.
     Zubaydah was kept naked and sleep deprived as guards in secret CIA facilities blared loud music to enhance his “sense of hopelessness.” Over a 20-day “aggressive phase of interrogation,” he spent the equivalent of 11 days in a box meant to simulate a coffin, according to the report
     During one waterboarding session, Zubaydah “became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open full mouth,” the report found.
     Bin al Shibh had a similar experience and the report blamed his “social isolation” for psychological problems he developed, including paranoia, visions, insomnia and self-harm attempts.
     Bin al Shibh stands accused with four other men of plotting and conducting the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They face the death penalty if convicted.

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