Guantanamo judge allows testimony about torture

Sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin taken Nov. 9, 2011 and reviewed by U.S. military shows Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri during military commissions arraignment at Guantanamo Bay detention center in Guantanamo, Cuba. Pool,AP Photo/Janet Hamlin

FORT MEADE, Md. Lawyers for the Guantanamo Bay prisoner accused of orchestrating the deadly attack on the USS Cole are presenting expert testimony at a pretrial hearing on how to conduct a mental examination of a torture victim.

Dr. Vincent Iacopino will testify Tuesday at the military tribunal in Cuba of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, agreed to hear the testimony before he orders an examination to determine whether al-Nashiri is competent to stand trial.

Defense lawyers say it should be done with sensitivity to Al-Nashiri's history of being waterboarded and threatened with weapons while he was being held by the CIA in secret prisons.

The 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer in Yemen killed 17 crew members and wounded 37.

Pole refused Monday to suspend the hearing, ruling that defense lawyers had offered no evidence supporting their suspicion that the CIA can eavesdrop on their private conversations with their client.

Pohl said that, unless the defense can offer evidence of eavesdropping, the hearing would continue.

"I can't stop a trial simply because something might happen," Pohl told defense attorney Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes during a heated exchange at the start of the scheduled four-day hearing.

Pohl said he will consider ordering some courtroom microphones removed to eliminate the possibility that they could inadvertently pick up private conversations. He also directed prosecutors to arrange for defense attorneys to meet with technology experts at the Guantanamo detention facility to investigate whether client-attorney meetings there could be improperly monitored.

The hearing was held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The Associated Press watched a video feed of the hearing at Fort Meade.

Al-Nashiri, a Saudi national, is charged with orchestrating the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors and wounded 37. He has been imprisoned at the Guantanamo since 2006, after being held by the CIA in a series of secret prisons. He is considered to be one of the most senior leaders in al Qaeda.

The eavesdropping issue sprang from an episode last week in another Guantanamo case in which an undisclosed government agency unilaterally silenced courtroom loudspeakers to prevent spectators from hearing classified information. Pohl, who was surprised by the action, ordered the agency on Thursday to disconnect the equipment.

Al-Nashiri's defense team accepted prosecutor Anthony W. Mattivi's assurance that no listening capability exists in holding cells near the courtroom. But defense lawyers still worried about a third party secretly monitoring privileged conversations in a room at the Guantanamo detention facility where lawyers meet with their clients.

Reyes said he especially wants to know if the CIA can eavesdrop on privileged conversations.

"If it is the CIA that is conducting the listening, this is the same organization that detained and tortured Mr. al-Nashiri," Reyes said.

A CIA inspector general's report said al-Nashiri was waterboarded and threatened with a gun and a power drill because interrogators believed he was withholding information about possible attacks against the United States. Such practices were allowed under rules approved by the George W. Bush administration, but many them have since been repudiated as torture.

Pohl also ordered a mental health examination to determine whether al-Nashiri is competent to participate in his defense.

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