9/11: Judge rules defendant unfit for trial after CIA torture


WASHINGTON: A military judge at Guantánamo Bay has ruled a 9/11 defendant incompetent to stand trial after a military medical panel found that the man’s sustained abuse in CIA custody years earlier had rendered him lastingly psychotic.

A Guantánamo military commission spokesperson, Ronald Flesvig, confirmed the ruling by Judge Col Matthew McCall. The ruling means Ramzi bin al-Shibh will not be tried together with his four 9/11 co-defendants, whose case will now proceed without him.

A Yemeni, al-Shibh is accused of organizing one cell of the 19 hijackers who carried out the 11 September 2001 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

The attacks rocked Americans and people around the world. They led the George W Bush administration to take extraordinary steps in what it called a “war on terror”: invading Afghanistan and Iraq, setting up a program of CIA interrogation and detention, and creating the special prison and military commission at Guantánamo.

A military medical panel last month diagnosed al-Shibh as having post-traumatic stress disorder with secondary psychosis, and linked it to his torture and solitary confinement during four years in CIA custody after his 2002 arrest.

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Al-Shibh has complained for years since his transfer to the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that his guards were attacking him, including by invisible rays, so as to deprive him of sleep and cause him pain. McCall’s ruling noted that psychological reports dating back at least to 2004 had documented al-Shibh’s mental issues.

Defense attorney David Bruck argued at a hearing by the military court on Tuesday for McCall to accept the medical panel’s finding that al-Shibh’s mental issues were too severe for him to meaningfully take part in his defense.

Bruck pointed to what he said was al-Shibh’s solitary confinement over four years in detention at CIA black sites, and torture that included his being forced to stand sleepless for as long as three days at a time, naked except for a diaper and doused with cold water in air-conditioned rooms, for the man’s lasting belief that his American guards were still conspiring to deprive him of sleep.

Bruck indicated in Tuesday’s hearing that al-Shibh would be expected to remain in custody while court officials waited for him to become mentally competent again, if that ever happens.

Defense attorneys and a UN-appointed investigator have argued that the five 9/11 co-defendants should be given physical and psychological care for the lasting effects of the torture they underwent while in CIA custody under the Bush administration.

The five 9/11 defendants were variously subjected to repeated waterboarding, beatings, violent repeated searches of their rectal cavities, sleep deprivation and other abuse while at so-called CIA black sites.

The CIA says it stopped its detention and interrogation program in 2009. A Senate investigation concluded the abuse had been ineffective in obtaining useful information.

Joe Biden this month declined to approve post-trauma care when defense lawyers presented it as a condition in plea negotiations.

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