GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorism attacks looms, and as more than 15 years have passed since alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others were sent to Guantanamo Bay, delays continue to plague the efforts to put the men on trial, with torture at the forefront.
In the 20 years since 19 al Qaeda terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people, the five men believed to be responsible for the planning and execution of the plot have yet to stand trial at the specialized island war court. The key questions of whether confessions obtained by the FBI following their CIA custody should be admissible, and whether the United States was truly at war with al Qaeda prior to 9/11, remain unresolved.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, dubbed “KSM" and described as “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks,” was a close ally of Osama bin Laden and was repeatedly waterboarded while in U.S. custody. KSM is being tried in a death penalty case alongside four co-defendants: his nephew, Ammar Baluchi, who sent money transfers to hijackers inside the U.S.; alleged hijacking trainer Walid bin Attash; 9/11 facilitator Ramzi bin Shibh; and al Qaeda money man Mustafa Hawsawi. The men were subjected to a variety of interrogation techniques — including stress positions, sleep deprivation, bouncing the detainees off of walls, slaps to the face, and more.
The defense teams are seeking to throw out confessions that the five men made to FBI "clean teams" at Guantanamo Bay after they had been subjected to these “enhanced interrogation techniques," considered torture by many, at the CIA black sites.
Jay Connell, the death penalty defense attorney for KSM’s nephew, spoke with the press on Sunday at a Guantanamo Bay motel.
“Make no mistake. Covering up torture is the reason that these men were brought to Guantanamo and the continuing cover-up of torture is the reason that indefinite detention at Guantanamo still exists," Connell said. "The cover-up of torture is also the reason that we are all gathered at Guantanamo for the 42nd hearing in the 9/11 military commission on the 15th anniversary of the transfer of these men to Guantanamo.”
David Bruck, a lawyer for Shibh, claimed that his client continues to experience “intense painful vibrations focused on particular parts of his body” and claimed that “it is as though the torture program for him never ended.”
When announcing that KSM and his co-defendants had been sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2006, President George W. Bush argued that “this program has been subject to multiple legal reviews by the Department of Justice and CIA lawyers” and added, “I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it — and I will not authorize it.”
The 9/11 case has been delayed many times following unfavorable Supreme Court decisions under Bush and an abandoned effort by former President Barack Obama to try the men in a New York City federal court. After multiple scuttled military commissions, numerous retired judges, battles over classified information, and accusations of torture, the death penalty trial had been set for 2021, but COVID-19 upended that, and with yet another new judge starting this week, it is unclear where things now stand.
A clash over the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program, which the Democratic majority called torture, took center stage throughout the most recent hearing — in early 2020. Dr. James Mitchell, a psychologist who helped design interrogation techniques for the CIA in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, spent much of his testimony defending his actions as legal and arguing that he’d helped stop future attacks.
But defense lawyers for five alleged 9/11 plotters disagreed, repeatedly pointing to the 2014 Senate report that concluded, “The CIA's justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.” The chairwoman of the committee at the time, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, stated that “under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured.”
Mitchell, a former Air Force survival school psychologist, helped put together interrogation techniques that stemmed from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape program. The psychologist personally used the simulated drowning technique against KSM in 15 sessions, using at least 183 water pours in March 2003.
Mitchell testified his goal wasn’t just to get KSM to admit to past attacks “but rather to stop that second wave of attacks that he planned with Hambali that was real and that we stopped.”
Riduan Isamuddin, aka Hambali, was the leader of the Southeast Asian al Qaeda-linked terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, which carried out the deadly 2002 nightclub bombing in the Indonesian island of Bali, killing 202 people. The U.S. government alleges Hambali was part of a “second wave” plot to launch follow-up attacks inside the U.S.
The summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report concluded that “the CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Republicans on the committee, led by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and others, released a response disputing the majority’s conclusions.
Former CIA Directors George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden wrote a joint Wall Street Journal op-ed claiming the interrogation program led to the capture of senior al Qaeda operatives, disrupted terrorist plots, and “formed an essential part of the foundation from which the CIA and the U.S. military mounted the bin Laden operation.”
Connell also argued that his client had not committed a “war crime” and added: “The government says their position for their entire case for guilt is based on the idea that Osama bin Laden had the power of the president of a country or the legislature of a country to declare war in 1996.”
Alka Pradhan, another lawyer for Baluchi, also said that "to hear senior members of the military argue that an alleged terrorist can declare war against the United States of America is jarring because it contravenes all existing laws.” She said she felt “absolute all-consuming rage” about the overall process and called it a “clear farce proceeding.”
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy
Original Location: Allegations of CIA torture continue to be stumbling block in 9/11 trial