By Richard A. Serreno, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — As defense attorneys for five alleged Sept. 11 plotters began sharing the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture with their clients in Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. military prosecutor predicted the findings will make the trial more transparent.
Army Brigadier Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, acknowledged that last week’s release of the torture report gives the defense side the advantage of seeing their long-running complaints about torture at CIA detention sites officially documented.
Martins said it “increases the likelihood that more of the processes (in the case) will be open to the public and assures the accused will be able see and consult with defense counsel about certain information not previously available to them.”
As frustrations mount about the delays in the military tribunal system, Martins insisted the case will move forward. Although they are far from reaching a trial date, he said the prosecution team is committed “for however long this takes.”
A pre-trial hearing was scheduled to begin Monday morning to discuss allegations that the FBI secretly tried to interfere with defense lawyers by seeking confidential information about their cases. If true, the intrusion could lead to the case being thrown out or one or more of the defendants tried separately.
But late Sunday night the trial judge, Army Col. James Pohl, abruptly canceled the Monday hearing without giving any public explanation.
The five defendants at the Cuban prison were given copies of the 500-plus page report to review in their cells, getting what is apparently their first comprehensive confirmation of the harsh interrogation techniques they endured at CIA detention facilities before being transferred to Guantanamo.
The lead defendant, Khalid Shaikh Muhammed, was waterboarded 183 times, and he and his co-defendants also were subjected to other harsh techniques, such as sleep deprivation, beatings, and being chained naked in their cells.
Some of the defendants, if not all, likely will try to use their torture as a reason for leniency to spare their lives in the death penalty case, hoping to win some sympathy from a military jury.
That campaign has already begun with James Connell, the lead attorney for defendant Ammar Baluchi, who the CIA claims gave useful information after being subjected to torture.
“The CIA and its defenders are using Mr. al Baluchi as a scapegoat for its illegal and reprehensible use of torture,” Connell said. “The United States spent incredible amounts of money, energy, and American credibility, and now the CIA is pointing at Mr. al Baluchi to justify its massive torture infrastructure.”
But the lawyer added, “Mr. al Baluchi does not hold any grudges against the CIA.”
The Senate report said some of the tortured detainees, including Ramzi Binalashibh, suffered mental problems as a result of their treatment.
During court appearances in Guantanamo, Binalashibh has erupted in outbursts several times and a mental evaluation of his condition is underway.
James Harrington, the lead attorney for Binalashibh, said his client is “competent and fully capable” of understanding the gravity of the charges and assisting in his defense.
AFP Photo/Shane T. McCoy