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6 Of First 20 ‘Worst Of The Worst’ Still At Guantanamo

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — Fourteen years ago, a Navy photographer hoisted a camera over razor wire and made an iconic image of America’s experiment in law-of-war detention: 20 men in orange jumpsuits in shackles on their knees in their first hours at Guantanamo.

Today, just six of those first 20 captives who opened the U.S. prison camps in Cuba are still there. And in a sense they symbolize President Barack Obama’s challenge in downsizing if not closing the offshore prison.

Four of them are Arab men who, on paper, are cleared to go but not to their home countries. Another has never gotten a hearing at the parole board Obama created in 2011 that bogged down in bureaucracy.

And the sixth is Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, 46, Guantanamo’s lone convicted war criminal. A 2008 military tribunal sentenced him to life in prison for serving as Osama bin Laden’s media secretary and creating a crude al-Qaida recruiting video.

Little is known about how al-Bahlul, a 46-year-old Yemeni, has spent his years alone on Guantanamo’s cellblock for convicts. But his case is emerging as a crucial test of the on-again, off-again military commissions. A federal appeals court is deciding whether to uphold his conspiracy conviction as a violation of the law of war, a decision expected this year that could shape up as the next U.S. Supreme Court challenge over Guantanamo.

The prison entered its 15th year on Jan. 11 amid a period of downsizing that should reduce the number of detainees to 90 by February. More than a third of those remaining are approved for transfer — like Day One detainees Mahmud Mujahid, 35; Abdel Malik Wahab al-Rahabi, 36; Samir al Hassan Moqbel, 38; and Ridah Bin Saleh al-Yazidi, 50. The first three are from Yemen; the last is Tunisian.

But as long as al-Bahlul’s life sentence stands and Congress continues to insist that no Guantanamo captive set foot on U.S. soil, Guantanamo is the Pentagon’s version of Spandau Prison. Spandau didn’t close in West Berlin until four decades after World War II ended when its last Nazi prisoner died.

Meantime, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, who has run the prison from Miami’s Southern Command for three years, says the 2,000 soldiers and civilians who staff the prison shoulder the responsibility “superbly.” Thousands of troops have come and gone across the years since the first flight set down at the remote U.S. Navy base with these last six men aboard it.

Al-Yazidi, the Tunisian, may be the most mysterious to this day. His leaked 2007 Guantanamo profile cast him as a veteran of the battle for Tora Bora in Afghanistan who twice fled his native Tunisia for Italy, first in the ’80s to work in a Sicilian vineyard. Later, according to U.S. military intelligence, he migrated to Afghanistan where he reportedly forged “numerous connections to senior al-Qaida officials, including Osama bin Laden.”

But by late 2009, a federal task force approved his release “to a country that will implement appropriate security measures.” So, in theory, al-Yazidi could go home — unless he or the State Department fears sending him there.

“I just don’t know,” said his attorney of record, Brent Rushforth, who met al-Yazidi only once in 2008. Since then, the Tunisian has refused calls and invitations to other meetings. “He’s certainly mysterious as far as I’m concerned; I just haven’t been able to communicate with him.”

Also curious is how another captive who got there on Day One — Yemeni Mohammed Abu Ghanim, 40, never charged with a crime — has also never been before the parole board. Like other detainees who have been released, Ghanim was brought to Guantanamo as a suspected bin Laden bodyguard. Under Obama’s March 2011 executive order, all captives were supposed to have their cases reviewed within a year and have twice yearly file reviews thereafter. But only 16 of the captives currently at Guantanamo have gotten hearings.

Getting an appointment at the parole board, said Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross by email, is “a function of many variables.” He said that includes “the quantity and type of information available about a detainee,” in this case a man who got there the day the detention center opened, as well as how much time a U.S. military officer tasked with helping the captive needs to prepare.

Two men on that first flight, Mujahid and al-Rahabi, were cleared to go in 2014 by the Obama parole board. But they’re Yemenis who can’t go home under a longstanding White House policy that considers Yemen too violent, too influenced by al-Qaida offshoots for Guantanamo repatriations.

“They’re conscious of the irony that they were the first in,” says their attorney, David Remes. In December, Rahabi lamented that although he was the first “forever prisoner” cleared by the parole board, no foreign country has interviewed him as a candidate for resettlement.

Al-Rahabi, like most of Remes’ Guantanamo clients, “is willing to go anywhere” to be reunited with his wife and daughter Ayesha, whom he last saw in person as a 3-month-old. He aspires, however, “to be transferred to an Arabic-speaking country because that’s where the family would have the easiest time integrating,” Remes said.

Also still there is Moqbel, who briefly captured attention with his April 2013 New York Times op-ed column about his hunger strike and forced feedings. He’s been cleared for release since late 2009 and wrote his lawyers in July that he aspires to own a business, maybe run a restaurant.

Meantime, the sailor who took the photo has moved on. Former Petty Officer Shane McCoy has left the Navy, where he worked with a Combat Camera Unit, for a civilian job with the U.S. Marshals Service. He’s the first and only photographer at the federal agency that moves federal prisoners around and into the United States.

Fourteen years ago, at Guantanamo, McCoy was uniquely situated to capture the arrival of the first 20 captives. Now, he said, if President Obama is ever able to move the last Guantanamo detainees to the United States, he wants to photograph them that day, too.

©2016 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: In this photo released Jan. 18, 2002 by the Department of Deense, U.S. Army military police secort a detainee to his scell in Camp X-Ray during in-processing on Jan. 11, 2002, the day the dentention center opened. (Shane T. McCoy – U.S. Navy Petty Officer)

 

Guantanamo Diarist Loses Court Challenge Of Prison Conditions

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald (TNS)

The Mauritanian captive whose censored Guantanamo memoirs have been published around the world has lost a bid to have a federal court intervene in his conditions of confinement at the U.S. Navy base prison in Cuba.

U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth wrote that he doesn’t have the authority to order the Obama administration to set a date for a parole board hearing for Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who turns 45 Monday.

Just 18 of Guantanamo’s current 107 captives have gone before the Periodic Review Board since President Barack Obama created it in March 2011. Two more captives have hearing dates set for next month.

The judge also said that he had no authority to order the U.S. military to return possessions Slahi was once allowed to keep in a cell _ including family photographs and gifts from prison staff, including a nonnetworked laptop computer and books. “The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not apply to Guantanamo detainees,” Lamberth wrote.

Slahi, held captive by the United States since November 2001, has spent years in segregation at Guantanamo in a special detention site called Camp Echo, apart from nearly all the other prisoners at the Navy base’s prison complex. He has never been charged with a crime and at one point won an unlawful-detention suit that was subsequently overturned on appeal and returned to federal court for a rehearing that has not been held.

Although a 2009 federal task force listed Slahi as a possible candidate for a trial, his name did not appear on a list of seven captives still considered for trial this year by the chief war crimes prosecutor.

Slahi’s lawyers asked the federal court to intervene in his case as his Guantanamo Diary was being published in dozens of countries and languages. The book is a compilation of essays he wrote at the prison in Cuba in 2005 for lawyers to help them prepare his unlawful detention case. Prison staff originally marked the pages “Top Secret,” meaning only his lawyers had access to them in a classified setting. Through the years, however, U.S. censors declassified a large part of the material.
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(c)2015 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Supplies Seem To Be Running Low At Guantanamo Prison

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — Could the people at the Most Expensive Prison on Earth be pinching pennies?

Attorneys for the last 114 captives at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, say they have been increasingly providing their clients with everything from T-shirts and socks and shoes to shampoo and vitamins to fill a long-term, unexplained need at the war on terror prison.

Lawyers who have visited the prison as recently as this month say the captives’ U.S. military issue uniforms are faded, torn or tattered and their shoes have holes. In other instances, detainees tell their lawyers, personal hygiene supplies are cheap and simply don’t do the job.

A case-in-point: When attorney Ramzi Kassem met detainee Shaker Aamer to share the news that the long-held Saudi prisoner was approved for transfer to Britain after Oct. 24, the captive was brought to their meeting in prison-issue canvas shoes held together by duct tape.

“Stuff’s just not getting replaced,” said attorney George Clarke who in late September spent about $300 on slip-on canvas shoes, plastic sandals, T-shirts and towels for his two detainee clients — both approved for repatriation, if the political situation improves in Yemen. “They say the stuff they get is crap. Or they’re not getting it.”

Recently, he said, the detention center staff has been more accepting of contributions from the attorneys, suggesting prison commanders are confronted with a cash crunch or have realized they can pass along costs of basics to the private sector.

At the prison, a spokesman declined to say whether the raggedy clothing reflected a new policy or budget cutbacks but dismissed a question on whether there was a supply issue. Detainee provisions “have not changed,” Navy Capt. Christopher Scholl said tersely by email.

The prison would not provide a list of what constitutes basic issue prisoner provisions these days. Nor would Scholl address a question about whether the quality of prison-issue items had degraded.

The International Committee of the Red Cross would not say whether delegates have raised the issue in confidential talks with the prison commander.

The Miami Herald spoke, separately, with 12 attorneys who have met captives in recent months and describe detainees showing up at legal meetings looking disheveled and needing replacement footwear or clothes. The attorneys say the appearance is noteworthy because through the years all but mentally ill captives have tried to tidy up for their legal meetings.

“They’re looking pretty threadbare,” attorney Cori Crider of the nonprofit Reprieve legal defense group said from the U.S. Navy base Tuesday after she bought shampoo and socks for one prisoner. “It’s an escalating complaint that people are being left in rags.”

The lawyers quote their clients as saying some supplies have disappeared entirely at the prison, which boasts Muslim sensitivity and humane treatment. Some just aren’t replaced frequently enough, they claim.

Into this vacuum attorneys who represent the detainees at no charge have for about nine months routinely spent hundreds of dollars on each trip to buy their clients basic provisions at the base commissary, the Navy Exchange, or NEX.

In March, Chicago attorney Patricia Bronte, a solo practitioner, spent $136.25 on shoes and Gold Toe socks for her two Yemeni clients. She left them with a prison lawyer, who got them to the clients after she left the base — something she knows because she got thank you notes via the prison’s legal mail system.

“I have noticed that sometimes the client appears at the meetings with shoes that look pretty beaten up. So I went to the NEX and I bought shoes and socks.” Also $6.12 in toothbrushes and toothpaste, according to her commissary receipt.

“Understand, I’m not complaining. I don’t mind buying my clients shoes to improve their conditions,” she said. “It’s the gall of this country. To detain these guys for little or no reason for 14 years and not provide them with shoes is offensive.”

Ramadan provided an early sign of the prison’s cutbacks: Detainees reported through their lawyers that the prison no longer offered lamb during feast break-fasts — something the military pointed to cited in past years as proof of its cultural sensitivity. The prison cultural adviser blamed “logistics” for its disappearance.

Prison officials had already stopped spending taxpayers’ money on books, videos and electronic games for the detainee diversion program, according to media visits in the past year, leaving it up to the Red Cross and lawyers to donate to the Detainee Library.

Kassem, the attorney, said his clients quoted guards and other prison staff as blaming budget cuts at the prison where the Pentagon presently maintains a 2,000-plus staff for 114 captives and has spent more than $5 billion.

“Sometimes it’s a problem of poor toiletries — soap that doesn’t lather, toothpaste that doesn’t froth, deodorant that doesn’t prevent body odor,” said Kassem, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law whose legal clinic represents five Guantanamo detainees. Captives he sees in the prison’s iconic orange prison uniform are wearing old, torn and much less orange jumpsuits, he said.

The prisoners are perplexed, said Kassem said. “They’ve heard how much it costs per prisoner. They wonder, where’s all the money?”

“Somebody’s pinching pennies, it seems,” he said, describing the prison-issue footwear on Aamer, the next detainee to be released, as “Oliver Twist tattered” despite repeated pleas for a replacement pair.

“He needs a new pair of shoes to go home in,” said Kassem said. “It would be too embarrassing for the United States to let him go home to the UK (United Kingdom) in those shoes.”

Attorneys say the detainees give different explanations for the personal hygiene requests. Some say the prison went generic recently and the quality degraded. Some of the more devout believe the prison-issue items contain non-halal ingredients forbidden by Islam. Others simply want something personal to break up the tedium of institutional life.

Over at the secret prison for former long-held CIA captives, Camp 7, the detainees are taking vitamin D furnished by defense attorneys Cheryl Bormann and Air Force Capt. Michael Schwartz.

Walid bin Attash spent years without exposure to sunlight in a so-called CIA black site before he got to Camp 7 in 2006. Now, he’s told his lawyers, his medical record shows a severe vitamin D deficiency. He asked his defense team for a halal version of the supplement, which the prison doesn’t provide. One attorney, who asked not to be identified, quoted a prison medical officer as telling detainees “there’s no money for that.”

So bin Attash’s lawyers ordered kosher vitamin D — no forbidden products in those gel caps — and gave it to the military staff attorney assigned to Camp 7. The prison’s medical officer has apparently doled them out to other former CIA black site captives because bin Attash needs a resupply sooner than a one-a-day distribution would require, Bormann said.

“We’ve been having to purchase vitamin D for our client,” says said Bormann, a criminal defense attorney with death penalty experience. “It’s crazy.” At a civilian prison, she said, the lawyers wouldn’t have to buy and furnish it. “They’d go to a federal or state judge, who would order the prison to provide it.”

Footwear and uniforms are a different issue. Lawyers report their clients showing up in faded, tattered and stained uniforms, demonstrating to them that the military is not replacing them. The same is true of the prison-issue black canvas shoes.

Lawyers willing to spend their own money on the clients say that, in response, the detention center has been much more liberal in accepting donations, particularly those purchased at the commissary.

It works like this: The lawyer buys the goods at the place where everybody on base shops and hands the commissary shopping bag over to a deputy military lawyer on temporary duty at the prison’s legal office. Each bag contains goods intended for a single detainee, along with a slip that lists the intended prisoner’s detention number and what’s inside. The military lawyer hands the bag to the guard force, which vets the contents for suitability.

(At the prison, spokesman Scholl said the prison’s legal division was using a longstanding process for accepting donated items.)

One attorney who asked not to be identified said he bought about a dozen soccer balls at the base commissary over several days, and later heard from a detainee they got through as “a gift from Allah.”

Lists of purchases provided by more than a dozen different attorneys include toothbrushes, toothpaste, bar soap, shampoo, deodorant, slip-on sandals that double as slippers, white socks, white T-shirts, towels, no-lace sneakers, canvas slip-on shoes, pillows, books, individual DVD players, video games and audio tapes and other printed media. Those reached the clients after a guard inspection — as did tahini, ginger, allspice, mint oil, mint tea, ginger tea, Nesquik, olive oil, ground cloves, henna and almonds, around Ramadan.

Lawyers also said they have submitted other items that were rejected — notably black socks, hairbrushes, combs and aftershave (probably for its taboo alcohol content).

The prison’s common rule, according to several attorneys is, no duplicates. That means, a captive who gets a new bottle of shampoo must exchange it for the one in his cell.

(c)2015 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

A display for visitors shows some supplies a detainee is issued at the prison at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 in this photo approved for release by the U.S. military. (Walter Michot/Miami Herald/TNS)

Accused 9/11 Plotter Seeks Judge’s Help Sending Letter To Obama From Guantanamo

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI – Lawyers for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are asking the Army judge in the Sept. 11 death-penalty case to help them send a letter the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks wrote President Barack Obama from Guantanamo.

The effort appeared in a notation on the war court docket recently. His attorneys are declining to discuss it.

But it appears to be a continuation of an effort begun last year after the man who was waterboarded 183 times by the CIA, then once bragged that he ran the 9/11 terror attacks “from A to Z,” could not find anyone at the remote outpost to send his letter to the White House.

Mohammed’s lawyer, David Nevin, said at a news conference last summer that Mohammed had written Obama about “Muslim oppression at the hands of the West in general in the United States in particular.” It was unclear whether the letter currently on file at the war court was the same one, or if the 50-year-old al-Qaida captive had written another one.

At issue then was how a letter written by a so-called high-value detainee would be allowed to leave the base since anything he said or wrote was presumed to be top secret. It was described as a private letter to the president, not war-court work product, and Nevin noted at the time that the president of the United States has a security clearance.

Since then, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a portion of its so-called torture report, about the CIA program that interrogated Mohammed, and the judge has ordered the prosecutors to carry out a sweeping classification review in the case. That effort is ongoing.

The Pentagon disclosed the filing entitled “Motion to Send Letter to the President” on the war court website on Friday. It was dated Sept. 3. The case prosecutor followed with an emergency motion to block the letter “from further dissemination.” On Sept. 4, the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, issued a currently sealed order sealing the defense motion, including the letter.

Mohammed, his nephew and three other former CIA captives charged in the conspiracy case are due at the war court on Oct. 19. But those pretrial hearings have been repeatedly delayed while a Justice Department team works behind the scenes to sort out a potential conflict problem in the case involving FBI spying on the defense team of one defendant, Ramzi Binalshibh.

(c)2015 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

File photo: The U.S. flag flies over Camp VI, a prison used to house detainees at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, in this file photo taken March 5, 2013. REUTERS/Bob Strong/Files

Retired Justice Stevens Says Some Guantanamo Captives May Deserve Reparations

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens shattered the taboo on talking about reparations for Guantanamo captives this week in a speech that said some of the nearly 800 men and boys held at the Pentagon’s prison camps in Cuba may be entitled to compensation, like Japanese-Americans who were interned in World War II.

“I by no means suggest that every Guantanamo detainee, such as those who have been convicted by a military commission, is entitled to compensation,” he said Monday in prepared remarks for meeting of the nonprofit Lawyers for Civil Justice group. “But detainees who have been deemed not to be a security threat to the United States and have thereafter remained in custody for years are differently situated.”

In doing so, the 95-year-old justice who was appointed by Gerald Ford, retired in 2010 and replaced by Elena Kagan stepped into an ongoing tug-of-war between the White House and Congress about what to do with the last 122 captives at Guantanamo — 57 of them approved for release, with host country security assurances.

Many of them are Yemeni, and many of them were provisionally approved for transfer by Bush administration review boards and then again by a 2009 task force set up by President Barack Obama. Neither administration would repatriate them, citing insecurity in their country. The Obama administration, however, has been trying to fashion individual resettlement deals for some of them in other countries on a case-by-case basis.

But Congress has made that increasingly difficult. Successive legislation has forbidden the transfer of detainees to the United States for any reason, and imposed other restrictions. Now, the GOP-led House Armed Services Committee has adopted legislation that would expand the restrictions to require Secretary of Defense certification that a detainee’s future dangerousness has been mitigated and forbid transfer to certain countries likely seen as suitable locations by the Obama administration, such as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Oman.

At the White House on Wednesday, spokesman Josh Earnest lamented congressional “barriers” to Obama’s goal of closing the detention center, calling the prison “not consistent with the wise use of our government resources” and “counterproductive.”

He did not, however, offer an opinion on the idea of reparations.

A few former detainees have tried to sue the United States for compensation, using different legal theories. But U.S. government lawyers have successfully thwarted having the cases heard. In 2010, Britain paid undisclosed millions in compensation to former Guantanamo prisoners who accused the British government of complicity in their U.S. detention.

Stevens, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, called the detention center a “wasteful extravagance” that should be closed “as promptly as possible.” He adopted a calculus that currently estimates it costs three million dollars a year to keep a single detainee at Guantanamo — a formula the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Marine General John F. Kelly, disputed a year ago in sworn testimony.

Stevens’ talk, which was posted on the U.S. Supreme Court website, invoked President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision to intern thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and noted that the United States twice paid reparations — $37 million in 1948 and $1.2 billion in 1988. He also noted that the Bush administration released the overwhelming majority of detainees released from the prison camps opened in Cuba.

His remarks come as four former Guantanamo captives who were released in December to resettlement in Montevideo, Uruguay, have been protesting at the U.S. Embassy seeking compensation for their lost years at the prison camps in Cuba. Those men included Syrians who had been cleared for a long portion of their time at Guantanamo but whom the U.S. concluded could not be safely repatriated.

Stevens wrote the Supreme Court’s landmark 2006 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that struck down Bush’s first effort at trying war-on-terror captives by military commission, forcing the president to obtain congressional approval for the war court. Two years earlier, he wrote the majority opinion in Rasul v. Bush, which held that Guantanamo captives were entitled to habeas corpus review — something Congress for a time thwarted through legislation. Neither mentioned reparations.

Photo: Legal Times via Twitter

Judge Cancels This Month’s 9/11 Hearing At Guantanamo

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Military judges have canceled three war court hearings in a row, effectively leaving Guantanamo’s Camp Justice dark for two months and signaling how much the war crimes cases are still a work in progress.

On Friday, according to attorneys who have seen the order, the September 11 trial judge canceled hearings planned for April 20-24 at the war-court compound in Cuba. Army Colonel James L. Pohl, the judge, cited a secret filing that day by a Justice Department team reporting to him about the circumstances of a supposedly since-closed FBI probe of defense attorneys.

Pohl also cited the case prosecutor’s continuing opposition to his judicial order separating defendant Ramzi bin al Shibh from the case to make progress toward the trials of the other four men.

Accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged accomplices were last in court February when hearings were disrupted by bin al Shibh’s disclosure that a Pentagon-paid, defense interpreter had earlier worked for the CIA in their secret prison network, where the men were tortured.

Their next hearing in the death penalty case is scheduled for June first through the fifth.

The Pentagon prosecutor’s office wrote September 11 victims and their families Monday that, although the news of another delay may be “frustrating for you to hear,” trial preparation was underway “in a deliberate and careful manner, affording the accused all the protections they are accorded under the law.”

The letter, obtained by the Miami Herald, also defended the prosecution opposition to multiple trials “under the present circumstances” as sparing the victims of being exposed to “the long and difficult trial process twice.”

Progress has also been slowed while attorneys and the judge waited for release of a portion of the so-called Senate Torture Report that described in part what agents did to the five men in the CIA prison network between 2002 or 2003 and 2006.

Defense attorneys now want the rest of the report, which is classified. Prosecutors say they are studying it to decide which portions the defense lawyers should see.

Earlier, another judge, Air Force Colonel Vance H. Spath, canceled this week’s pretrial hearing in the USS Cole case after prosecutors appealed his rejection of a prosecution theory in the case alleging “wanton disregard” for the safety of Yemeni port workers in Aden at the time of al-Qaida’s October 12, 2000, suicide bombing. Seventeen U.S. sailors died in the attack and prosecutors want to bring witnesses that widen the victim pool beyond the American service members.

Prosecutors filed their appeal to a Pentagon panel whose makeup the Nashiri defense attorneys are challenging as illegitimate at a federal appeals court.

Spath last held court the first week in March in the case of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, focusing on a since revoked order to force judges to move to Guantanamo permanently until they wrap up their trials. Spath ruled the order created an appearance of unlawful influence by suggesting the judges could be rushed to justice.

Nashiri is next due back at the court May fourth through the fifteenth for more pretrial hearings.

Separately, the judge in the war court’s third case had earlier canceled pretrial hearings for an alleged al-Qaida commander, Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, that were scheduled for March 23-25.

That judge, Navy Captain J.K. Waits, had been expected to hear defense lawyers argue that the government committed unlawful influence with the rescinded relocation order. But he canceled the hearings a day before the architect of the move-in order resigned, without explanation.

Waits is based in Italy and hears U.S. Marine Corps and Navy cases as a European and Middle East circuit judge when not at Guantanamo. Hadi’s case is still in the pretrial phase as lawyers haggle over what aspects of the law apply, what evidence an eventual jury will see, and Hadi’s circumstances of confinement. The Iraqi won, and then lost, a court order forbidding women guards to handle him, claiming a religious accommodation.

Hadi and Waits are due back at Camp Justice May 25-29.

Photo: Paul Keller via Flickr

U.S. Allocates A Whopping $65 Million For New Guantanamo School

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald (TNS)

GUANTANAMO NAVY BASE, Cuba — This base with the most expensive prison on earth is getting one of the world’s priciest schools — a $65 million building with classroom space for, at most, 275 kindergarten through high school students.

Do the math: That’s nearly a quarter-million-dollars per school child. In Miami-Dade County, a new school costs perhaps $30,000 per student.

Congress recently allocated the funds for the new W.T. Sampson School to put the children of American sailors stationed here under one roof. It will meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, have a proper public address system, computer and science labs, art and music rooms, a playground, cafeteria and gym — just like any new school anywhere in America.

But the investment also illustrates the Pentagon’s intent to keep this base open even if President Barack Obama manages to move out the last 132 war-on-terror captives, and close the prison run by 2,000 or more temporary troops and contractors.

And it offers a lesson on the cost of doing business out here on Cuba’s southeastern tip where under the U.S. trade embargo all business is conducted independent of the local economy.

Guantanamo Bay may be best known for its war-on-terror prison separated from the rest of the island by a Cuban minefield. But this 45-square-mile U.S. Navy base, leased from Cuba for $4,085 a year that Havana won’t accept, functions like a small town of 6,000 residents.

Sailors and civilians on long-term contracts run the airport, seaport, public works division and a small community hospital. They bring their families and belongings, get suburban-style homes, scuba dive in the Caribbean — and send their children to two U.S. government schools that are nearer to the base McDonald’s and bowling alley than the Detention Center Zone.

This year, there are 243 students — 164 at the elementary school and the rest at a separate building for middle and high school students whose mascot is a pirate.

In Florida, it typically costs $20,000 to $30,000 per student to build a school, according to Jaime Torrens, chief facilities officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. But South Florida has a “competitive environment where labor is readily available, materials are readily available.”

Guantanamo’s costs are so much higher “because all materials must be barged to the island, and the construction contractor’s crews must live on site for the duration of construction,” said Cindy Gibson, spokeswoman for the unit that runs the Department of Defense schools.

She estimated building costs are “70 percent higher than the average construction costs experienced in the United States.”

The money for the new Sampson School is tucked inside the massive, $585 billion national defense spending act that, among other things, funds the war on the Islamic State and requires that new construction projects at Guantanamo have an “enduring military value” independent of the detention operations.

It also funds the renovation or new construction of six other Defense Department schools in Belgium, Japan and North Carolina. The next most expensive is another K-12 school being built on the outskirts of Brussels for another American enclave — the children of Americans assigned to the U.S. Army or NATO at a cost of $173,441 per pupil.

To be sure, there’s no exact science for evaluating costs at the U.S.-controlled corner of Cuba. Any cost-benefit analysis is mired in political debate and difference of opinion.

Last year, for example, some Democrats in Congress got a Pentagon comptroller report on what it costs to run Guantanamo’s sprawling detention center operations, including to maintain its 2,000-plus staff and court system for seven of the last 132 detainees. It put the cost at $2.7 million per prisoner a year.

More prisoners have been released since then, meaning the congressional crunch is more like $3.1 million per captive a year. And that price is probably higher. Some costs are classified.

In February, however, Marine Gen. John Kelly disputed that soup-to-nuts approach at a congressional hearing. His Southern Command headquarters, with oversight of the prison, figured it cost “about $750,000” for each prisoner, he said.

Then again, he’s been seeking $69 million to replace a secret prison at Guantanamo that now holds 15 former CIA captives. It works out to $4.6 million per prisoner in construction costs, giving new meaning to the term “high-value detainees.”

The school project looks cheap by comparison. As presented to Congress, it consolidates two inefficient schools that were built in the 1970s and ’80s and have deteriorated across the decades.

The separate structures need new ventilation and air-conditioning systems, electrical upgrades of alarms and emergency systems, an updated elementary school kitchen, new bathrooms and insulation and retrofitting to meet new standards, according to a report to Congress by Chuck King, the facilities engineer for the Department of Defense Education Activity, who is based in Peachtree City, Ga.

Instead, he proposed and Congress agreed to build the new 112,000-square-foot school on the site of today’s smaller, single-story 1983-vintage elementary school on Sherman Avenue — along the road to Camp X-Ray, the original war-on-terror prison, and the frontier with Cuba.

Students will go to school in trailers and other available space while their current building is demolished and replaced by the new one. Once the high school students move in, workers will demolish their 1975 building behind the base pub, O’Kelly’s, not far from the scrubby nine-hole golf course.

The Sampson school system, established in 1931, is named for a 19th-century U.S. Navy rear admiral who was responsible for the blockade of Cuba in the Spanish American war. It has a storied history of closings that no occasional hurricane or snow day can match.

Sampson students were sent home — evacuated back to the United States — during World War II and for three months in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The schools also closed in the mid-’90s when families were sent away as the base coped with a huge influx of tens of thousands of Cuban and Haitian migrants, housed in tent cities, that taxed this isolated outpost’s water desalination and other resources.

The new school’s plan includes state-of-the-art technology in physics, chemistry and video-broadcast labs, a music suite, LED lighting and a wireless network. It will also have space for 50 faculty and administration members, two or more floors and a stucco finish, according to the proposal to Congress.

It’s not possible to ask the kids what they think about it because Department of Defense policy shields schoolchildren from speaking with reporters on base. Besides, today’s students are mostly the children of military families that move every few years, meaning they’ll likely be gone by the time the new $65 million school opens.

The new school is projected to be finished in April 2018. By then, Obama’s successor will be in office, the Pentagon will have completed a $31 million underwater fiber-optic cable between the base and South Florida and, unless Congress lifts the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, the blockade will be in its 57th year.
___

(Miami Herald staff writer Christina Veiga contributed to this report.)

Photo: Guantanamo’s W.T. Sampson High School on December 15, 2014. The building is to be demolished once the Defense Department builds a new $65 million, 275-pupil K-12 facility. (Carol Rosenberg/Miami Herald/TNS)

Guantanamo Not Part Of U.S.-Cuban Bargain

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has no intention of withdrawing from the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, despite the sudden shift in U.S.-Cuban relations.

“There is no impact to Guantanamo from the changes announced today,” the National Security Council spokeswoman, Bernadette Meehan, said Wednesday evening.

Hours earlier, at the U.S. outpost in southeast Cuba, base spokeswoman Kelly Wirfel said amid reports that American prisoner Alan Gross was on his way to freedom that there was no change in security posture at the 45-square-mile outpost of about 6,000 residents that straddles Guantanamo Bay and sits behind a Cuban minefield.

From the earliest days of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro sought to get the U.S. out of the base — a prime piece of real estate long before the George W. Bush administration decided to put its iconic war-on-terror prison there.

Successive U.S. administrations have said the military has permanent tenancy under a 1934 treaty made public by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The United States cuts an annual check for $4,085 in rent, even though the Cuban government does not cash it.

Wednesday, a senior Obama official told McClatchy that Cuban diplomats object to the continued U.S. presence on the base “in every discussion … but there won’t be change to that status quo.”

The Pentagon spokesman for U.S. military activity in Latin America and the Caribbean said the administration was still committed to closing the base’s war-on-terror prison, which currently hold 136 foreign captives there in an operation staffed by around 2,000 U.S. troops and civilians on temporary duties.

But the U.S. military uses Guantanamo for other purposes. Its airstrip has been a launch pad for drug-interdiction and humanitarian relief missions in the Caribbean. U.S. Coast Guard and Navy vessels pass through on resupply missions. Just this past weekend, the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa was in port.

“As of today, the Defense Department is maintaining current operations and policies throughout the region,” said Army Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III, the spokesman. “We continue to support the president’s goal of reducing the detainee population at Guantanamo through transfers and prosecutions.”

Beyond the Detention Center Zone, there was no hint this week of the coming upheaval in U.S.-Cuban relations on the base, which resembles small-town America. It has a church, McDonald’s, a scruffy golf course, schools for sailors’ children and every morning at 8 a.m. the blare of the Star Spangled Banner.

At the U.S. Navy’s base radio station, called Radio Gitmo, the shelves were bulging with fresh stocks of “Rockin’ in Fidel’s Backyard” T-shirts, Castro bobble head dolls and other souvenirs. It was also offering a new item: $5 Santa caps in advance of the holiday season.

During the height of the Cold War, tens of thousands of troops served at Guantanamo with munitions hidden in hillside bunkers and U.S. Marines guarding a tense frontier — as portrayed in the Hollywood hit A Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore.

The 17.4-mile fence line was known as the Cactus Curtain. Then in 1999 U.S. President Bill Clinton had the Marines remove the minefield, heralding a new era. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, successive Guantanamo base commanders, Navy captains, described the U.S.-Cuban relationship along the minefield as “benign.”

Now, only the occasional sound of Cuban mines popping off in the heat or by something rustling in the minefield remind of the dangers of the frontier.
___
(Lesley Clark of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Senate Report Confirms CIA Had ‘Black Site’ At Guantanamo, Hid It From Congress

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — In 2004, as the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to let Guantanamo captives consult lawyers for the first time, the CIA spirited some men who now face death penalty trials from a clandestine lockup at the U.S. Navy base — and didn’t tell Congress.

Two years later, even as President George W. Bush announced at the White House Rose Garden that the spy agency had transferred its most prized captives to Guantanamo for trial, the alleged al-Qaida terrorists were still under the control of the CIA.

The release of 524 pages of the 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee report confirms for the first time that the CIA used Guantanamo as a black site — and continued to run the prison that held the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 13 other men even as the Pentagon was charged to prosecute them.

It also offers graphic details that the U.S. government has hidden from view in the pretrial hearings of six captives it seeks to execute — about the sexual torture and post traumatic stress disorder of the alleged USS Cole bomber and why a sickly looking accused 9/11 conspirator sits on a pillow at court proceedings.

But it does not resolve whether the spy agency that systematically hid its prized interrogation program from court and congressional scrutiny has entirely ceded control to the U.S. military of the secret facility where the men are now imprisoned. And, if so, when?

“I would find it hard to believe that they let go. Throughout this entire program, the CIA is running from the law at every turn,” says Navy Cmdr. Brian Mizer. He calls the revelation that his client, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the accused planner of the USS Cole bombing, “had a tube inserted into his anus” tantamount to rape.

The CIA argues that there was a sound medical reason to use “rectal rehydration” on its captives in 2004 at a secret site that the report suggests was not Guantanamo. In one instance, the CIA “rectally infused” a “food tray” of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins into captive Majid Khan. Now at Guantanamo, he pleaded guilty to being an unwitting courier of cash used to fund a terrorist bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, in exchange for the possibility of eventual release.

In the instance of Nashiri, a footnote in the report says, his “rectal feeding” was carried out in a secret site a month after he was spirited away from Guantanamo.

“They weren’t rehydrating him,” says Mizer of Nashiri’s tube insertion, which was described as administered on a table with his feet raised higher than his head. “He was being punished for being on a short-lived hunger strike.”

Defense lawyers, some of whom have seen classified evidence in the USS Cole and 9/11 cases, call this week’s disclosure “the tip of the iceberg.” They want access to the entire report. But they argue that what has been disclosed so far provides fodder for coming legal challenges that ask Guantanamo judges, members of the U.S. military, to either dismiss the case or downgrade it from capital on grounds of outrageous government conduct or pretrial punishment — by the CIA.

Since the 2011 and 2012 arraignments, the death penalty trials have been grappling with how to handle the mostly hidden role of the CIA in the cases — even as the agency tried to muzzle defense lawyers.

In an illustration of this, an agent outside the court remotely cut the sound to the public in January 2013 when an attorney for the alleged 9/11 mastermind began to argue an unclassified motion seeking information about the black sites described in this week’s Senate report.

Now the report shows that Guantanamo had two of those secret CIA black sites — code named Maroon and Indigo — from September 2003 to April 2004 that held at least five detainees.

They were Nashiri, alleged 9/11 deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh, two unidentified captives and a fifth man who would subsequently die mysteriously after being dropped off in Libya during Moammar Gadhafi’s rule — a one-time U.S. military prisoner whose detention, unlike the others, was disclosed to the International Red Cross.

A Libyan, his name was Ali Mohammed al Fakheri, but the CIA called him Ibn Shaykh al Libi, the name he apparently used when captured by Pakistani security forces, according to leaked Guantanamo detainee profiles. He has been identified as a captive who was sent to Egypt for interrogation, and under torture falsely linked Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida, something he recanted once in CIA custody.

The U.S. would go on to invade Iraq in 2003, with Fakheri’s tortured, recanted statements as justification. In the same month that the first photos of prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, were broadcast by 60 Minutes, the five were flown from Guantanamo.

Why? As the report explains, there were elaborate internal Bush administration talks, including consultation with the solicitor general about the rights Guantanamo captives might receive once the Supreme Court ruled in a case called Rasul v Bush that gave captives there access to lawyers two months after the CIA cleared out its captives.

Fakheri would be repatriated to Libya sometime later. He died in a Tripoli lockup in 2009 — the Libyans said he committed suicide — days after refusing to talk to a Human Rights Watch investigator who discovered him there.

Fourteen other CIA prisoners, including those who had been held there before, were brought to Guantanamo for eventual trial in September 2006. They “were housed in a separate building from other U.S. military detainees and remained under the operational control of the CIA,” according to the report.

A Pentagon spokesman on Thursday disputed that. “President Bush announced on Sept. 6, 2006,” said Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins III by email, “that the high-value detainees were at Guantanamo under the custody and control of the Defense Department.”

When not in pretrial hearings, they are segregated at Camp 7, a facility so secret that its location on the base and even its cost of construction are considered classified.

Navy Capt. Tom Gresback said Thursday that Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, the commander of prison operations, runs “all the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay” for the U.S. Southern Command, led by Marine Gen. John Kelly.

Grezback would not say if the commanders answer to the CIA, too, or, if not, when that changed. He also specifically declined to answer “due to operational security” whether the U.S. military or CIA recently assigned female soldiers to touch the former black site captives — a controversy that has stirred unrest inside the secret prison.

In 2009, military spokesmen likewise could not say why a sickly looking Saudi 9/11 defendant was sitting on a pillow at the war court. This week, a footnote in the Senate report provided a possible answer.

In 2003 or 2004 CIA captive Mustafa al Hawsawi was diagnosed as suffering “chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure and symptomatic rectal prolapse” at an unidentified black site code-named Cobalt, and CIA leadership was alerted to “excessive force” allegations in the use of so-called rectal feedings of detainees.

Hawsawi defense attorney Walter Ruiz said Wednesday that Hawsawi had no health problems before he was captured by the CIA in 2003 and held in a system that, he noted, citing the report, used “sleep deprivation, diet manipulation and found the use of rectal examinations to be effective as a form of behavior control.”

He noted that one portion referenced a need for Hawsawi to get emergency surgery while held in a secret CIA prison, and the host country would not provide it. The attorney, a reserve Navy commander when called to active duty, added that since Hawsawi got to Guantanamo in 2006 he has “gotten no proper medical care since he’s been here in regards to that.”

While the CIA had its secret prisons at Guantanamo, according to the Senate report timeline, first Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller then Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood ran the detention operations.

Records maintained by the Miami Herald show that a number of prominent members of Congress were on official visits at Guantanamo while the CIA had its parallel prison operation: Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham and John McCain on Dec. 10, 2003; Democratic Sen. Carl Levin on Feb. 19, 2004; Democratic Rep. Jane Harman with Republican Rep. Ray Lahood on Oct. 13, 2003.

Also visiting was Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson on Dec. 21, 2003. He was the only one to respond to a Herald inquiry and said that he was in the dark about the CIA facility at the time, didn’t inspect it and wasn’t briefed on it. “No. I visited the temporary detention facility at Gitmo,” the senator said Wednesday by email through an aide, Ryan Brown.

The report suggests all of Congress was kept in the dark about the dark site.

“Because the Committee was not informed of the CIA detention site at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, no member of the Committee was aware that the U.S. Supreme Court decision to grant certiorari in the case of Rasul v. Bush, which related to the habeas corpus rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, resulted in the transfer of CIA detainees from the CIA detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to other CIA detention facilities.”

The CIA’s spokesman, Dean Boyd, also declined to say when — if ever — the agency relinquished control of Guantanamo’s most secretive prison.

A footnote in the Senate report says that in early December 2006, three months after the CIA brought its prisoners back to Cuba, then-Director Michael Hayden visited Guantanamo’s “High-Value Detainee Detention Facility” — something not reflected in the prison’s official list of dignitary visits.

And there is no suggestion in the footnote that the CIA had relinquished control of it.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Detention At Guantanamo Grinds On: 13 years And Counting, 148 Captives Remain

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald (TNS)

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — The detainee in the cage outside the prison hospital psych ward never broke stride on a treadmill as a knot of reporters went past.

Thunk, thunk, thunk, went his feet as he kept the beat behind green sniper netting that obscured all but his silhouette. A soldier stood watch.

No one would explain who the man was, in keeping with prison camp policy that prohibits discussion of individual patients among the last 148 captives at the war-on-terror prison.

But he was still there an hour later — thunk, thunk, thunk — running at the same pace as the military hustled the media out, past an idling white van with a cell inside for a detainee.

It’s the first Tuesday in November, just another day as Guantanamo grinds on toward the detention center’s 14th year as the most expensive prison on earth with no end in sight. President Barack Obama ordered it emptied in 2009, on his second day in office, and people here are dubious that it will be done before his last.

It will close “a year from now, six months from now, ten years from now — I don’t know,” says Zak, a Pentagon employee who has served as the prison’s Muslim cultural adviser since 2005.

“My focus is to ensure that I have operationally effective and safe facilities for a mission with an indeterminate end date,” says Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, the 14th commander of the prison operation.

One captive was let out this month, the seventh detainee to leave this year, to a rehabilitation center in his native Kuwait after nearly 13 years in U.S. custody. Six more men await the outcome of Uruguayan elections to see if President Jose Mujica’s successor will make good on a February offer to resettle them. Another six to eight are in the pipeline for transfers to Afghanistan and Europe, according to administration officials, with security assurances.

In all, 779 foreign men have been held at Guantanamo since the prison opened Jan. 11, 2002. Nine have died here. Those who got out were repatriated or resettled by far-flung American allies such as Palau in the South Pacific and Slovakia in central Europe.

Meantime, Guantanamo grinds on, churning through temporary forces doing mostly nine-month tours managing a largely “compliant” prisoner population — as well as the so-called 10 percenters, who constantly give the guards problems and pass their days mostly in lockdown.

The admiral has a four-year plan to build new barracks for the troops and a new kitchen to feed both guards and guarded. Also, if Congress funds it, a $69 million new lockup will be built for Guantanamo’s most prized detainees — the 15 former CIA captives, seven awaiting trial, and none approved for transfer, even with security assurances.

And the warden, who arrived this summer, doesn’t see the last detainee leaving before this commander in chief leaves office. “I think that’s an unrealistic hope,” said Army Col. David Heath. “I’ll run it the best I can until either I’m told to close it or I leave.” His tour ends in the summer of 2016.

But there are signs that life has eased for both captives and captors since the military cracked down on disobedience during the bitter hunger strike in the summer of 2013 and locked nearly every prisoner alone in his cell for long stretches at a time.

Now, according to the guard commanders, more than half of Guantanamo’s captives follow the rules — don’t spit on the guards, aren’t on hunger strike — and are allowed time with other captives in communal areas for up to 22 hours a day. Rule breakers get two to eight hours in outdoor communal recreation yards, according to Heath.

Heath says he has tinkered with the program, in particular offering troublemakers the eight hours in the recreation yard to try to encourage good behavior, without success. “We have a handful who continue to be actively in the fight,” says his boss, Cozad.

The cultural adviser seems to have run out of ideas for incentives. “If we give them ten CDs, they want 20. If we give them two apples, they want four,” says Zak. What they really want “is to be out of here one day.”

Heath has spent much of his career in military policing and doesn’t come off as particularly distressed by a phenomenon that obsessed some of his predecessors — the detainees who throw a brew of their blood, feces and other bodily fluids at passing guards.

Earlier in his career, says Heath, he ran a lockup at Fort Lewis, Wash., where U.S. soldiers did the same thing. At Guantanamo, the troops call it “splashing.” But from what Heath has seen, “they’re squirting.”

A captive attempts this about once a day, he says, mostly in the disciplinary cellblock for about a dozen of the most uncooperative men.

And, says Heath, his guards don’t complain to him about it. They know “it’s a hazard of the job” and get special protective gear for their turn on the disciplinary block, another part of the grind at Guantanamo.

Meantime, the military is still shielding basic information it once confidently disclosed.

A Miami Herald photographer who got periods of night and day access to the detention center during Ramadan a few years ago was shooed from silently documenting detainees at prayer after 90 seconds, appealed and got 150 seconds more — a total of four minutes.

How many detainees are so malnourished that military medical staff list them for a tube feeding? No one will provide it. The prison last disclosed the number on Dec. 2 — 15 prisoners on a list for forced-feeding. The number had flat-lined at 11 from a 2013 high of 46, and was rising when the military abandoned that portion of transparency.

How many people work on the detention center staff? On April 15, the prison had precisely 2,268 troops and civilians on its rolls. Now the spokesman says its “approximately 2,000,” suggesting that it dropped by approximately 268.

Other portions of the media tour have vanished as well.

The forced-feeding display no longer includes a vial of olive oil, once offered as a culturally sensitive lubricant to snake the feeding tube through a nostril. A doctor decried it as risky, to the disappointment of detainees who got a taste of home as the tube reached the back of a hunger striker’s throat, according to one of their lawyers.

At a detention center clinic, a guide to calculating a captive’s weight has been torn off a wall, leaving a bit of glue and paper. If he’s in hard leg restraints, it advised, subtract one pound. A black box and belly chains weigh two. A wheelchair weighs 36 pounds and the prison’s often photographed restraint chair weighs 76.2 pounds, meaning a soldier has probably wheeled a captive onto a scale on his way to or from a forced feeding.

Guantanamo grinds on, with some tweaks.

Prison librarians have stopped buying new books, games and videos for the captives. Instead they process donations to the collection from lawyers and the International Red Cross. One donor submitted a LEGO-Harry Potter video game just before Halloween — and some novels in Russian.

At the detainee hospital, gone are the boasts that troops get themselves tube fed to illustrate it’s no big deal. “We don’t want anyone to undergo a medical procedure that’s not necessary,” says the prison’s current chief medical officer, for the first time a woman.

Navy medics still use pseudonyms. But gone are the Shakespearean characters, perhaps recognizable to the more literate captives. This rotation of troops has replaced their real names on uniform name tapes with the names of lakes and rivers — Chattanooga, Chattahoochee, Escalante, Mattoon.

Commanders portray the hunger strike as part of everyday life nearly 18 months after Obama lamented it. “We are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike,” he said at the National Defense University. “Is that the America we want to leave our children?”

There have been no real recent suicide attempts, says Cozad, just “some vague attempts at self-harm and threats of self-harm, basically a manipulation to go to more comfortable quarters in our Behavioral Health Unit” — the psych ward where the captive was logging miles on the treadmill in the cage.

Now, a new controversy has supplanted forced-feedings for attention:

Complaints by lawyers that the secret prison for high-value detainees, Camp 7, has recently begun using female guards to shackle and handle captives — something the captives and their lawyers said has been the exclusive province of male guards, just like supervising showers and conducting groin searches.

It’s no big deal, says Zak, the cultural adviser. “As long as that touch doesn’t mean anything else it’s OK,” he says, adding that the female guards wear gloves just like the men.

At the prison hospital, staff say they were already familiar with resistance to female troops at the low-value lockups, where the cleared captives and hunger strikes are kept.

A Navy nurse who inserts the hunger strikers’ nasogastric tubes said her prison patients sometimes protest and ask for a man to do it instead. But it’s her assignment, she said, and she does it, anyway.

“I understand they have a goal, they’re trying to make a statement for themselves,” says the nurse, who uses the pseudonym Lieutenant Beeds. “I have my mission — to do my job as a professional.”

Commanders call it a bogus issue but it was on the docket of this week’s war court hearings. A Marine lawyer, Lt. Col. Tom Jasper, got a temporary restraining order prohibiting the use of female guards moving his client, an Iraqi, to and from legal meetings.

Jasper argues that the man accused of running al-Qaida’s army, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, had never before Oct. 8 been shackled by a female guard. When al-Hadi refused, a four-man guard team moved him forcibly — and did it again recently.

Cozad says there have been female guards at Guantanamo since the day the detention center opened, but demurs on whether there have been all-male guard units assigned to Camp 7, al-Hadi’s lockup. “I have a guard force made up of both men and women and I employ them equally,” says Heath, the Army colonel who functions as warden.

Photo: A lighthouse and old migrants boats on the ground of the marine museum, on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in this photo approved for release by the U.S. military. (Walter Michot/Miami Herald/TNS)

Guantanamo Board Says Saudi Captive Can Go Home

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald

A U.S. national security panel has approved for release from Guantanamo a long-held prisoner whose advocates argued was less of a risk at-large than the five Taliban captives sent to Qatar in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in May.
Muhammed Zahrani, 45, got to Guantanamo in August 2002 and was until this month held as an indefinite detainee, without charge or eligible for release, a “forever prisoner.” The Periodic Review Board announced Monday he was eligible for repatriation to his native Saudi Arabia, raising to 80 the number of men approved for transfer from the remote prison holding 149 detainees.
Separately, the panel upheld the indefinite detention status of Mohammed al-Shimrani, 39, who boycotted his May 5 parole hearing to protest military groin searches of captives going to and from appointments.
With these decisions, the parole board President Barack Obama ordered set up in 2011 has looked at nine forever prisoners files and approved five for release and retained the indefinite detention status of the other four.
Zahrani persuaded the board to make him eligible for release, according to a document released by the Pentagon, because of his “candor with the board about his presence on the battlefield, expressions of regret, and desires for a peaceful life after Guantanamo.”
It’s not possible to know what he said because, at Zahrani’s request, his remarks and written submission to the board were under seal at the parole board website.
These were the board’s first review of Saudi prisoners, and the members note in their unsigned recommendation that they gave consideration specifically to Zahrani because of the ongoing Saudi rehabilitation panel.
A panel of representatives of the Departments of Defense, Justice, State, Homeland Security, and National Intelligence Directorate heard his case June 19.
It was unclear why the decisions took so long.
A U.S. intelligence assessment, which was prepared in April, said Zahrani trained with al-Qaida in Afghanistan in the two years prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. It said he has “provided information of value” to U.S. intelligence but alternately “withheld details” and “possibly has exaggerated his role in and significance to al-Qaida, to which he remains devoted.”
At his parole hearing, two unidentified U.S. military officers assigned to plead his case argued a history of misbehavior at the Pentagon prison did not mean he would be a risk to the United States, if released. Rather, an officer argued at the hearing, according to a transcript, that his behavior was “that of an inmate, rather than that of a terrorist.
“Such resistance and noncompliance with correctional staff is commonplace in penal systems, including in the U.S. … included by 12 years of detention, frustration, separation from family and boredom with no possible end in sight.”
They called him “a middle-aged, ailing man who desperately wants to return to Saudi Arabia” to receive national healthcare, go through the country’s detainee rehabilitation program and “start over.”
The brief three-paragraph decision clearing Zahrani made no mention of the portion of the U.S. military officers’ plea that called him less of a threat on paper than five Taliban prisoners sent to Qatar in May in exchange for release of Bergdahl, a long-held prisoner-of-war.
Instead, the panel declared itself impressed with his “mindset,” family support and willingness to take part in the Saudi-run rehabilitation center for former jihadists.
The board declined to change Shimrani’s status with an indirect mention of his boycott of the proceedings in protest of the groin searches.
It said it was not possible to evaluate his “mindset” because he didn’t show up, would review his case in six more months and encouraged full participation. Its short decision also encouraged him to engage with any Saudi government representatives who visit Guantanamo.

AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov

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Will Letter From Accused 9/11 Mastermind Get To Obama?

By Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald

GUANTANAMO NAVY BASE, Cuba — Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the man who once bragged that he ran the Sept. 11 terror attacks “from A to Z,” has written President Barack Obama about his views on the situation in Gaza and other current events.

But the military has yet to say if and how it will ever reach the White House.

Mohammed’s defense attorney, David Nevin, disclosed the existence of the letter at a news conference Thursday. In it, he said, Mohammed complains about “Muslim oppression at the hands of the West in general and the United States in particular.” Topics include his views on what happened in Iraq during the period of U.S. sanctions and “events in Palestine and Gaza over the years.”

Nevin said he doubts the letter contains classified information — although he noted that Obama, as president of the United States, has the sweeping power to declassify it.

The underlying issue is that after Mohammed’s capture in Pakistan in March 2003, the CIA held the alleged mass murderer in its secret overseas prison network, where the agency broke his will with 183 rounds of waterboarding and other, as-yet undisclosed, “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Since his arrival at Guantanamo he’s been held in a secret prison, Camp 7, by a secret military unit, Task Force Platinum, which considers everything he says and does presumptively classified. That’s why after a British TV channel and the Huffington Post published some of his apparently unclassified musings in January, the Pentagon prosecutor filed an emergency motion with the judge seeking clarification on how such a thing could happen.

The so-called manifesto quotes the Koran, Richard Nixon, and the Bible and offers a range of opinions on current events — from same-sex marriage, which he opposes, to the U.S. military suicide rate, which he blames on conspicuous U.S. consumption in impoverished Afghanistan. His lawyers have said it contains no classified material.

Thursday, the chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, who has charged Mohammed and four other men with the deaths of 2,976 people on 9/11, said all U.S. national-security lockups have “special administrative measures” that make sure communications with the outside world “are carefully managed.”

“Those restrictions balance very important concerns of security, fairness, access to counsel,” Martins said.

Meantime, the question remained open Friday: Who has the authority to mail a letter from the alleged 9/11 mastermind to the constitutional law professor turned commander-in-chief from a place where the war court is still resolving which portions of the U.S. Constitution apply?

AFP Photo/Chantal Valery

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New Guantanamo Judge Throws Out Limburg Charges In USS Cole Case

By Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — The new judge in the USS Cole case Monday dismissed collateral charges related to al-Qaida’s 2002 attack on a French oil tanker, according to two defense attorneys who read the ruling.

“This represents a serious rejection of the prosecution’s claim that it can invoke theories, provide no evidence. and expect the (war court) will blindly ratify those theories,” said attorney Richard Kammen, who is defending alleged al-Qaida terrorist Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at a death-penalty trial.

Al-Nashiri, 49, is accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s Oct. 12, 2000, suicide attack on the USS Cole warship off Yemen that killed 17 American sailors. His charge sheet also alleged that, after the 9/11 attacks, al-Nashiri also set up al-Qaida’s Oct. 6, 2002, bombing of the French supertanker MV Limburg that killed Bulgarian crew member Atanas Atanasov, and wounded 12 other workers on the ship.

Monday, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, on the case for a month, did not rule on the overarching challenge by defense attorneys that an oil ship in the region was a legitimate strategic target or at very least was not part of the Guantanamo war court jurisdiction, according to those who read it.

He threw out the charges on the limited finding that the prosecution failed to produce any evidence about the bombing, according to the two lawyers who read it, a decision the prosecution could revisit by calling witnesses in a motion for reconsideration.

Kammen called the decision particularly important at the court that was set up in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks because of “serious and continuing questions” on whether the Guantanamo war court has jurisdiction over alleged crimes that took place before 9/11.

Last week, Spath presiding for the first time in the USS Cole bombing case, overruled the chief of the war court judiciary and decided to decide all outstanding issues, even those his predecessor Army Col. James L. Pohl had heard. Monday’s was his first known ruling in that series.

In a comment on the dismissal, Kammen, a seasoned civilian death-penalty defender, also said that the decision demonstrated the need to try the case in federal court.

“None of these issues would arise had the case been prosecuted in an Article III court,” he said.

The Miami Herald was seeking a response to the ruling from the prosecution, which has been steadfast in its refusal to comment on judges’ orders under seal. Unless a military commissions judge pre-clears court filings, it could take 15 business days for it to be revealed to the public.

In February, al-Nashiri’s defense attorneys sought dismissal of the Limburg charges, a lesser-known portion of the al-Nashiri case, by arguing that the United States had no real stake in the attack in Yemeni waters on a French-owned ship carrying Iranian oil on a Malaysian contract, in which a Bulgarian national died.

Navy Cmdr. Brian Mizer argued that it was “telling” that in 2002 the U.S. dispatched Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents to the Limburg “to conduct, not a full criminal investigation, but merely one with respect to causation. And they were pointedly told by the French investigators on the scene that the Limburg was sovereign French soil and that they had no jurisdiction there.”

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the prosecutor, argued the war court has jurisdiction in the case because France was an ally in the war on terror at the time and al-Qaida’s seaborne attacks had impact on the global oil market.

The Limburg axis may be important to the al-Nashiri case because the prosecution sealed a plea agreement in February with another captive, Ahmad al-Darbi, to testify at any commissions hearings in the next three and a half years in exchange for release to his native Saudi Arabia. Al-Darbi, 39, pleaded guilty to terrorism charges that said he colluded with al-Nashiri to buy provisions and train operatives, some of which ended up being used in the Limburg attack.

AFP Photo/Chantal Valery

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Guantanamo-Bound MRI Machine Redirected To Maryland

By Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — The curious tale of the missing prison camp MRI machine is only partially solved.

A detention center spokesman said staff did indeed purchase a $1.65 million mobile MRI, short for magnetic resonance imaging machine, some time ago. But someone decided not to have it shipped to this remote U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba currently holding 149 captives managed by about 2,200 Pentagon staff, mostly soldiers.

“After further analysis, it was determined other modalities (at Guantanamo) could be used to assist with diagnosis and treatment of detainees’ acute medical conditions to include CT scan and ultrasound,” said Navy Capt. Tom Gresback.

On Sept. 28, 2012, Guantanamo’s contracting office awarded a Pennsylvania medical supply firm with the job of delivering a mobile MRI within four months to a port in Jacksonville, where a barge brings supplies to Guantanamo. At that time, a prison spokesman said the purchase could also be used for the outpost’s sailors and other nonprisoners, who traditionally need a week or so to go to Jacksonville for medical treatment.

But what became of the scanner after that is still a bit of a mystery — if it ever got to Florida, when, and where it went from there. Gresback said Thursday morning that U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, based in Fort Detrick, Md., “took over as custodian of the Mobile MRI system” — with an intended delivery date of June 30 of this year.

That was 26 days after attorneys for the accused USS Cole bomber, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, filed a legal motion asking a Guantanamo war court judge to order the military to take an MRI of his brain to scan for damage.

The machine’s whereabouts are unconfirmed. A Fort Detrick public affairs official with the Army agency granted custody of it did not return calls Thursday morning from a Miami Herald reporter seeking to determine when the agency was told it was theirs, and where it would go next.

In court Wednesday, a federal prosecutor said military medical staff at Guantanamo disagreed with a civilian doctor who examined al-Nashiri and recommended that an MRI would help assist in planning treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Army Col. Robert Moscati, a federal prosecutor in civilian life, also told the judge that a senior Pentagon official responsible for the war court should first decide whether to devote resources to getting al-Nashiri an MRI.

“There is not an MRI machine here and available at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay; therefore, there should be a request” to the Pentagon official first, Moscati said.

Al-Nashiri, 49, is accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s Oct. 12, 2000, suicide attack on the USS Cole warship off Yemen that killed 17 American sailors. U.S. agents waterboarded him and interrogated him with threats of a power drill and a handgun, and his lawyers want to know if an MRI will show brain damage.

AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov

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Guantanamo Judge’s Secret Order On Secret Motion Is So Secret Defense Lawyers Can’t See It

By Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald

In the latest installment of the Guantanamo war court’s most mysterious legal filings — two motions so secret that the public can’t know their titles — an Army judge has issued a classified order to prosecutors that even the defense lawyers can’t see.

The Pentagon disclosed the existence of Army Col. James L. Pohl’s judicial order dated June 4 in a recent website notation in the capital case of the accused USS Cole bomber.

Defense attorneys in Guantanamo’s 9/11 death-penalty case say Pohl issued a classified order on June 4 in an identical filing. Its existence has yet to be disclosed on the military commissions website whose motto is “Fairness, Transparency, Justice.”

When prosecutors filed the secret motions simultaneously in August 2012, defense attorneys were allowed to read some of the legal argument. But after two years and at least nine more prosecution filings for the judge’s eyes only, he has issued an order that only the prosecutors can see.

From the access that defense lawyers have had, they argue, the legal filings the prosecution and judge are keeping secret don’t meet the government’s own definition of what can be classified.
“Even if it’s OK to have secret proceedings … this one is a not a good candidate. But I can’t tell you why. What use is that?” says Jay Connell, the Pentagon-paid defense attorney for alleged 9/11 conspirator Ammar al Baluchi.

Rick Kammen is the attorney for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole warship that killed 17 sailors. “I’ve seen nothing at Guantanamo that in any real world sense should be classified,” Kammen said. “But I don’t make the rules I just follow them.”

What the two cases have in common is that the CIA held al-Nashiri and the five men charged in the 9/11 attacks for years in secret overseas prisons where, the accused and their lawyers say, they were tortured.

Prosecutors gave the judge the secret motions in August 2012 — stamped “secret” in red and stashed in a secret annex in Alexandria, Va. More secret filings followed, their substance so secret that even the titles are under seal — something prosecutors won’t explain in public or even provide a clue.

And now that the judge has issued an order?

“The prosecution has no specific comment for you on these matters,” spokesman Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins III said.

The judge has held two secret hearings on the secret matter — June 14, 2013 in the USS Cole case, Aug. 13, 2013 in the case of the accused Sept. 11 plotters. For the first of these, the judge not only excluded the accused, the public, and media but also the guards. “Go ahead and leave, guys,” the judge said in the portion of the heavily redacted June 2013 transcript that was cleared for the public to read.

It shows a federal prosecutor invoking a secret filing for the judge’s eyes only, and a declaration dating to Leon Panetta’s time as CIA director, 2009-11, to justify “extremely sensitive” national security reasons for the secrecy.

Two months later, in a transcript of the 9/11 case hearing that’s equally hard to understand because of the blacked out portions, a prosecutor argued that only the judge needs to know:
“The United States government has said it’s classified,” said Joanna Baltes, a civilian on loan to the prosecution from the Justice Department. “That is not something that needs to be shared to defense counsel, and absent authority to the contrary we would decline to do so.”

At the heart of the issue is a disagreement between the prosecution and defense, in both cases, over what the government can keep secret by invoking a National Security privilege or relying on classified information.

“You have to make something public about why it’s secret so we can have a debate about it,” says Connell, Baluchi’s lawyer, of the process that leaves defense attorneys in the dark as well as the public. “The way they’ve worked it out … nobody other than the prosecution and the judge know why even it should be a secret.”

At the Pentagon, Caggins said only the judge can decide whether the public will ever see what it’s about, or learn how he rules — a calculus that got more complicated Thursday when Pohl announced he was handing off the al-Nashiri case. He assigned an Air Force judge, Col. Vance Spath, to preside in a detailing order that suggested he’d polish off the secret motions with final rulings before Spath gets to Guantanamo for next month’s hearings.

Defense lawyers in both cases have asked the judge to order the prosecution to create an unclassified version of it for the defendants to see; the existence of such a secret ruling, they argue, drives a wedge between the attorneys who can’t talk about it and their clients who can’t know about it in an already tense and distrustful relationship.

Al-Nashiri, who was waterboarded by CIA agents and could be executed if convicted, “is interested in his case,” says Kammen. “And whenever he is excluded that is frustrating to him.”
Case prosecutors have noted, broadly, that such secrecy is lawful and modeled after federal court protections in civilian national-security cases.

As the prosecution’s classification expert, then Justice Department prosecutor Baltes defended the secret request for a secret something from the judge as “not related to any illegitimate national security reasons or reasons of embarrassment of the United States government.”

She has since left the case and is now serving as a senior executive at the FBI.

AFP Photo/Chantal Valery

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Full-Body Scanners May Replace Some Genital Searches At Guantanamo

By Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Giving new meaning to the military’s motto of transparent detention, the Guantanamo Bay war-on-terror prison is shopping for devices to conduct full-body scans at its outpost in southeast Cuba.

The prison has invited businesses to bid on delivery of two full-body, low-dose X-ray scanners capable of detecting “concealed threats or contraband.”

Its solicitation says 50 to 75 people would be screened daily by the mobile devices to be kept at Camp Echo — a series of cells inside huts where lawyers meet their clients across the street from the two main prison buildings. Before meeting with his lawyer, each captive is subjected to a full-body pat-down, including a genital search, and his ankle is shackled to a bolt on the floor.

The military also uses Camp Echo for occasional meetings between captives and court-appointed physicians consulting on their cases, and for International Red Cross video visits that some of the prisoners are allowed to have with their families. Each of those interactions also starts and finishes with guards searching captives’ genitals.

Left unclear in the solicitation is whether the prison is seeking alternatives to the physical searches conducted by specially trained teams of troops set up a year ago as the prisoners’ hunger strike drew participation by more than 100 detainees, 46 of them force-fed on a single day.

At the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the prison, Army Col. Greg Julian said the proposed purchase is “designed to give the commander more options.”

Late Monday, the prison’s new spokesman, Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, likened the system being sought to a civilian airport scanner.

He offered no price range for the acquisition — which requires installation and operational sessions at Camp Echo later this year — and said the devices would “be used for the purpose of screening visitors” at the sprawling detention center.

The military issued the first version of its solicitation May 23, weeks after a Saudi prisoner refused to leave his cell for a parole board meeting — a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s Guantanamo closure policy. A U.S. military officer assigned to advocate for his release blamed the “humiliating and degrading” practice of having a guard “touch the area near his genitals.”

Defense lawyers argue that the prison instituted the policy of frisking prisoners’ genitals last year to punish them for the ongoing, now hidden hunger strike at Guantanamo and to discourage detainees from leaving their cells for meetings or telephone calls with their attorneys.

In July 2013, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth appeared to agree in a ruling that concluded the searches interfere with the attorney-client relationship. The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments in December but has yet to issue a decision.

In the meantime, defense lawyer David Remes said, “Guards are still doing the humiliating searches, and detainees are still refusing to see their lawyers or have outside calls.”

Guantanamo’s spokesmen have in recent months refused to discuss camp procedures, but say the guards adhere to their motto of “safe, human, legal, transparent” detention.

The proposed purchase also comes at a time of transition at the prison camps where about 2,200 troops and U.S. government contractors work at the prison complex with 149 captives.

The officer who oversaw the new search policy, Army Col. John V. Bogdan, ended his two-year tour of duty as guard-force commander and was replaced by Army Col. David E. Heath, another career military police officer. Navy Rear Adm. Richard Butler turns over command of the prison operation to Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad this week. Cozad becomes the 14th commander of the detention center that the George W. Bush administration set up with a temporary, rotating guard force in January 2002.

The concept of using airport-style scanners at Guantanamo prison is not new.

Guards routinely used hand-held wands to search for metal in the clothing of attorneys and journalists. At Camp Justice, guards have a Body Orifice Security Scanner labeled BOSS to inspect former CIA prisoners — as they come and go from pretrial capital proceedings at the war court.

Now, according to the prison’s June 24 update on the contract, the military intends to use a similar system on everyone coming and going from Camp Echo — apparently prisoners in shackles as well as troops and other visitors.

AFP Photo/Chantal Valery

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FBI Agents Focus On 9/11 Hearing In Session At Guantanamo

By Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — A military judge convened an unusual two-day hearing Monday to gather facts on whether a series of episodes of FBI agents questioning defense lawyers’ staff raised ethical issues that could imperil progress in the historic trial of five men accused of conspiring in the September 11, 2001 terrorism attacks.

For the hearing, the Justice Department dispatched a four-member legal team led by assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Compoamor Sanchez, who argued in court filings that the FBI activity created no conflict of interest because the agents weren’t investigating defense attorneys, only questioned their support staff.

But the judge, Army Colonel James L. Pohl, was not persuaded by the civilian lawyers’ argument — portions of it filed in secret.

On June 4, he ordered this week’s hearing. Pohl declared himself “concerned the submissions of the Special Counsel have not adequately addressed a number of issues raised by the Defense as to the individuals contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the scope of any investigation concerning these cases.”

Defense lawyers said in a series of interviews Sunday night that they had uncovered four separate episodes of FBI questioning their staff members, in two possibly now closed investigations.

FBI agents questioned the staff members secretly with agents in at least one episode seeking a nondisclosure agreement about their probes — prompting defense lawyers to argue that the government was spying on their work. The investigations, as they see it, could be creating a chilling effect, and conflict of interest over whether they could adequately and zealously defend the five men awaiting death-penalty trials in the attacks that killed 2,976 people in New York, at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field.

Those questioned included a linguist on the team of the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in January 2013; two former federal law enforcement officers working as civilian investigators on the teams of alleged deputy Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mustafa al-Hawsawi in November, and the classification specialist on the bin al-Shibh team in April.

The last man tipped defense attorneys off to FBI activities in April, for the first time uncovering the existence of shadowy investigations whose actual targets have not yet been disclosed — prompting defense attorneys to tell the judge Monday morning that there’s suspicion and uncertainty in the 9/11 defense teams.

“I am trimming my sails. I am pulling my punches,” Mohammed’s attorney, David Nevin told the judge Monday. He added that, in the absence of certainty of who’s being investigated, he had canceled a fact-finding trip to the Middle East.

The case’s chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, assigned Compoamor Sanchez and the other three Justice Department lawyers to the ethics issue to steer clear of it. He told reporters Sunday that while “delay is frustrating” these were necessary deliberate steps on the path to trial.

AFP Photo/Chantal Valery