More lawyers are signing on to cases challenging the continued detentions of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay as allegations of abuse continue to surface at the prison camp, where officials are waiting to see how a federal court ruling could affect planned trials.
Two new cases of abuse surfaced this week. In one, a guard threw cleaning fluid on a detainee, military officials said. The guard was demoted and reassigned in June, and the guard's commander was reprimanded for failing to properly investigate.
In a second case, a guard hit a detainee who spit on the guard and tried to bite him. The guard was demoted and reassigned in October. It was unclear when the incidents occurred.
Other abuse allegations have been reported by detainees before review tribunals evaluating their status as enemy combatants. An Afghan man on Wednesday testified that the Taliban killed three family members and continued attacks in Guantanamo by beating him, spitting on him and throwing urine on him.
The military last week provided details of eight substantiated cases of abuse by personnel from prison guards to a barber. The information came nearly two months after The Associated Press asked for details of cases in an August report by James R. Schlesinger, who headed a U.S. congressional committee to investigate abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.
The government has not said how many abuse allegations it has investigated at Guantanamo.
"We have a process in place to review all allegation reports. Each report that alleges mistreatment at Guantanamo is taken seriously," said Lt. Col. Leon Sumpter, a spokesman for the detention mission.
Abuse allegations are a core complaint in a habeas corpus petition filed Monday by attorneys for Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi of Sudan, an alleged paymaster for al Qaeda and accused associate of Osama bin Laden who is one of four men charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes.
He alleges interrogators at Guantanamo wrapped prisoners in an Israeli flag, showed them pornographic photos and forced them to be present while others had sex.
"We have reason to believe it's pretty widespread and we're attempting to establish just how many people were subjected to this kind of treatment," al Qosi defense attorney Paul Reichler said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
Al Qosi's petition in U.S. District Court is one of several challenges that could halt his trial, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 8.
A federal court ruled separately Monday in the case of bin Laden's driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, that the Yemeni should not be tried by a military commission under current rules and that he is entitled to a hearing on whether he is a prisoner of war.
The government said it would appeal. It maintains Hamdan and others are enemy combatants, a murky classification with fewer legal protections.
Al Qosi's lawyers said in their petition that Guantanamo interrogations often took place in an area detainees called the "Hell Room," where pornographic pictures were on display.
They said methods included "taunting detainees in sexually humiliating ways, including having sex in detainees' presence or having female interrogators rub their bodies suggestively against detainees."
The complaint didn't say in which cases abuse was witnessed by al Qosi, nor who had sex in detainees' presence, nor how many incidents were reported.
Some of al Qosi's complaints echoed others, including that detainees were left in a room with the air conditioner on maximum and "the constant pounding of deafening music."
Cases in the congressional report included a female interrogator who climbed onto a detainee's lap and ran her fingers through his hair, and another detainee whose knees were bruised from being forced to kneel repeatedly.
The report followed a visit in May by Navy inspector general Vice Adm. Albert T. Church, who said he found conditions to be professional and humane at Guantanamo but also said his visit was too short to look further into the past for possible abuses.
Church cited eight "minor infractions." Four involved prison guards, three involved interrogators and one involved a barber, who it was later revealed gave detainees two reverse mohawk haircuts.
The military said those responsible for incidents listed in the congressional report were demoted, reprimanded or sent for more training.
Another case that defense lawyers call a violation of established rights involves 18-year-old Canadian-born prisoner Omar Khadr, who was 15 when captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and 16 when he arrived in Guantanamo. Although he has not been charged with a crime, he is accused in the killing of U.S. Special Forces medic Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer on July 28, 2002.
His habeas petition — one of more than 60 cases — is pending in federal court. His lawyers say under the Geneva Conventions he should have been afforded special rights as a juvenile when captured and detained.
"Our Congress and president have talked about their commitment to child soldiers but when they talk about it, it's usually in countries like Sierra Leone," said Richard Wilson, a law professor at the American University in Washington who took on the case and visited Khadr this week with another lawyer.
Last year the U.S. Department of Labor launched a US$13 million initiative to help prevent children from becoming soldiers and to rehabilitate child fighters. "That was a year after our client was taken to Guantanamo," Wilson said.
Officials at Guantanamo say they are not holding any juveniles — defined traditionally as those 16 and under — but have not said how many are 18 or under.