Detainee Describes Treatment
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, July 15 -- Salim Ahmed Hamdan, an alleged al-Qaeda driver who faces a historic military trial next week, testified Tuesday that a female interrogator elicited information from him using sexually suggestive behavior that he called "improper."
Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden who is accused in a terrorism conspiracy, told a military court that during questioning in 2002, a female interrogator "came close to me, she came very close, with her whole body towards me. I couldn't do anything. I was afraid of the soldiers."
"Did she touch your thigh?" asked Hamdan's attorney Charles Swift.
"Yes. . . . I said to her, 'What do you want?' " Hamdan said at a pretrial hearing. "She said, 'I want you to answer all of my questions.' "
"Did you answer all of her questions after that?" Swift asked. Hamdan said he did.
Hamdan's attorneys are seeking to persuade a judge to throw out incriminating statements he allegedly made to interrogators at the U.S. military prison here, arguing that they were obtained through coercive tactics.
Hamdan's trial, scheduled to begin next Monday, would be the first military commission conducted by the United States in more than half a century. His attorneys have sought a delay from U.S. District Judge James Robertson, but the Justice Department in court filings this Monday urged Robertson not to delay the commission, contending that the military proceedings are fair.
Hamdan's testimony in a former aircraft operations center-turned-courtroom came on the same day that lawyers representing another Guantanamo Bay detainee released more than seven hours of videotape of his questioning. The tapes, the first to publicly show an interrogation session at the U.S. military prison, depicted Canadian Omar Khadr, picked up as a teenager and accused of killing a U.S. soldier in a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan, being questioned by Canadian officials in 2003.
The interrogators are shown offering Khadr cans of soda and McDonald's hamburgers while trying to win his trust. Khadr complains to them about his treatment during captivity.
Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday that U.S. interrogators treat detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere humanely.
In his testimony, Hamdan said he was repeatedly held in solitary confinement and sometimes deprived of sleep by guards who banged on his cell door every few minutes. He acknowledged, however, that he also took naps of up to three hours on some afternoons.
Prosecutors said Hamdan was a devoted follower of bin Laden's who is accused of conspiring with al-Qaeda in terrorist acts and of ferrying weapons for the group. They did not directly address his allegations of mistreatment.
Defense attorneys acknowledge that Hamdan worked as a driver at bin Laden's farm in Kandahar, Afghanistan, but say that the Yemeni father of two, now in his late 30s, had no involvement in terrorism.
Unlike U.S. civilian courts, the military justice system President Bush established after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon allows for evidence gained through coercion in certain circumstances. A military judge must find it reliable and relevant for it to be used at trial.
Hamdan has previously alleged in court filings that he was subjected to sexual humiliation, but had not testified publicly about it until Tuesday. His depiction of the interrogations provided another glimpse of the treatment of some of the approximately 265 detainees here, who include al-Qaeda leaders accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Hamdan seemed a bit dazed when he arrived in court amid heavy security. Wearing a beige sport coat, white pants, sandals and a white headdress, he walked slowly to the stand, escorted by military guards, and refused to raise his hand when he was sworn in.
In the interrogation tapes released Tuesday, Khadr, then 16, is seen smiling and cooperating with questioners but is also shown burying his head in his hands and sobbing. In one video clip, he sits in a chair, grabs his hair and rocks back and forth, repeatedly saying what sounds like "help me" on the grainy video with crackling audio.
Khadr, who is also scheduled to face a military trial, told his interrogators that he was abused at Guantanamo Bay. At one point on the video, he lifts his T-shirt to explain how some of his wounds still hurt and decries his medical care.
"The actual abuse and torture isn't on the video," said Nathan Whitling, a Canadian lawyer who represents Khadr. Whiting said that he thinks U.S. interrogators videotaped harsher methods but that the videos have been destroyed.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Layne Morris, 46, a Special Forces soldier who was injured in the firefight at the Afghanistan compound where Khadr was captured, said Tuesday that the release of the interrogation video is a "pathetic attempt at manipulating public opinion."
"That's not just a 16-year-old boy snapped up off the streets," said Morris, who lost sight in his right eye when he was hit by shrapnel. "This is a demonstrated, hardened killer who is not happy with his new perspective on life, which is that he's going to be spending a long, long time in U.S. custody."
White reported from Washington. Staff writer Del Quentin Wilber and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.