Detainee Testifies Mental Torture of 9/11 Defendants Persists

Defense attorneys James Harrington (left), Army Maj. Alaina Wichner and Navy Cmdr. Patrick Flor take questions from reporters after Thursday’s unusual proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.

[Editor's Note: This article was first published on June 3 and was updated on June 4 to reflect Friday morning testimony from a government witness.]

Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba – A detainee from Guantanamo Bay’s clandestine Camp 7 prison facility added his support to claims of ongoing mental torture of the Sept. 11 defendants Thursday – testifying that he’s endured similar “noises and vibrations” to those alleged by one of the 9/11 military commission defendants.

Hassan Guleed, a 43-year-old Somali, is not charged before the military commission but inhabits the same part of the detention facility as the 9/11 defendants and others considered high-value detainees, who were previously held at CIA black sites.

James Harrington, the lead attorney for defendant Ramzi bin al Shibh, called Guleed to corroborate his client’s claims that some entity – either the guard force or another government agency – is pumping noises and vibrations into his cell and other areas of the facility.

The government has repeatedly denied the allegations, suggesting that the defendant is hallucinating, lying or perhaps hearing normal construction and maintenance noises. A former Camp 7 commander would testify on Friday that such normal noises, including banging, do occur, and that he found no evidence of any "machine" pumping in noises and vibrations to harass detainees.

Bin al Shibh testified in February that this treatment continues the torture he experienced at CIA black sites before his transfer to Guantanamo Bay in 2006. He is one of five defendants facing the death penalty for their alleged roles in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In heavily accented English, Guleed testified Thursday morning that he has been subjected to offensive “smells” as well as to noises and vibrations.

“We have mental torture in Camp 7,” Guleed testified on direct examination by Harrington.

Guleed said that he decided to testify to help his “brother” (the two men are not related) and because his complaints to the guards – which he stopped making years ago – had not helped.

But prosecutor Ed Ryan suggested that Guleed told multiple lies on the stand out of a continued devotion to al Qaeda, an affiliation the witness denied. The judge presiding over the case, Army Col. James Pohl, gave Ryan several minutes to attempt to establish bias on Guleed’s part.

“Is America your enemy?” Ryan asked.

“No,” Guleed responded. He testified that he sees Americans as his friends because they provide him with his food at Camp 7.

Bin al Shibh’s complaints of ill treatment and ongoing torture are longstanding. Last fall, Pohl ordered the disruptions – if they were in fact happening – to stop. Saying the abusive treatment has continued, defense lawyers have filed a contempt motion that is pending before Pohl.

However, Guleed testified that a second 9/11 defendant – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom he called “Brother Mohammed” – also has experienced disruptions. He testified to those disruptions briefly under questioning by Harrington. Mohammed’s lead lawyer, David Nevin, elicited some clarifying testimony before Guleed was dismissed.

Guleed testified that he and Mohammed are separated from each other by a cell but are able to communicate when both are in their individual recreation areas behind their cells. He described a situation when he and Mohammed both heard a banging noise – like a “hammer on a roof.”

Guleed is one of 41 detainees who are neither cleared for release nor charged before the military commissions system. Twenty-nine are cleared for release, and an additional 10 have pending cases before the commissions, including the five charged in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.

Following Guleed, Harrington had planned to call Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian who is one of the more well-known detainees because he is repeatedly mentioned in the Senate’s Torture Report. The report described Zubaydah as “the CIA’s first detainee” to go through the enhanced interrogation program that defense lawyers and other critics consider torture. For Zubaydah, that program reportedly included 83 rounds of waterboarding and a long list of other abuses, such as being held inside a coffin.

But Zubaydah has been considered for prosecution and, unlike Guleed, was represented by counsel. Zubaydah made it just outside the door of the courtroom, where he waited as his lawyer, Navy Cmdr. Patrick Flor, told Pohl that he would object to any line of questioning that could incriminate his client.

This created an impasse given that Ryan would be allowed to probe for bias on Zubaydah’s part, as he had with Guleed. Pohl discussed with the lawyers how he could assess the testimony if Zubaydah asserted his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination when Ryan asked about terrorist associations.

Pohl asked the man in the middle – Harrington – what he wanted to do.

“A rose between two thorns,” Harrington told the judge. After conferring with Ryan and Flor, Harrington told Pohl that it was best to brief the issue and postpone the testimony until the July session.

Flor left the court to update Zubaydah before his transport back to Camp 7. After the session ended, Flor told reporters that his client was disappointed but that he looked forward to testifying in the future. He said that no one has seen or heard publicly from Zubaydah in 14 years.

On Friday, a former Camp 7 commander, who was not identified by name, testified by video that both he and his predecessor had inspected various areas of the facility and did not find any evidence to corroborate Bin al Shibh's allegations of vibrations or other disturbance. During direct examination by prosecutor Clay Trivett, the unidentified  commander said that roof repairs, air conditioner maintenance, installation of insulation and other activities could create loud nosies. He said the guard force always notifies the detainees of such repairs in advance.

And, the commander testified, when he would notify Bin al Shibh that the task force was compliant with Pohl's order, the defendant would be abusive and threatening.

Under cross-examination by Harrington, the former commander acknowledged that he did not ask to see the schematics of Camp 7 or ask what company built the facility. He also testified he did not have any special training in mechanical or electrical engineering, plumbing or construction, and that when doing his inspections he was looking for something that would have appeared unusual to him. He did not, for example, inspect the wiring that went into cells.

"I did not look inside the walls," the former commander told Harrington.

"We'll ask about the walls in a little bit," the attorney said, referring to the closed portion of the testimony in which classified information could be discussed. That testimony took place Friday afternoon, outside the presence of media. It closed out the weeklong session.

The next pretrial hearings in the Sept. 11 case are scheduled to start in mid July.