Guantanamo judge orders commander to explain force-feeding tactics

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Published Thursday, August 14, 2014

A US judge ordered a former Guantanamo Bay commander Wednesday to come forward with details about the force-feeding of hunger strikers at the controversial detention camp.

Meanwhile, another military judge also ruled on Wednesday that one of the men accused of plotting the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States must at least temporarily rejoin the other four defendants in a single trial, despite concerns about his mental health.

US District Judge Gladys Kessler asked Colonel John Bogdan to explain a standing order issued in May that calls for the use of restraint chairs during the force-feeding of inmates.

Kessler also asked Bogdan to tell lawyers for plaintiff Abu Wael Dhiab, a Syrian national held since 2002, why he had been denied a wheelchair when taken to his force-feeding sessions.

And she instructed the US military to cooperate with an independent medical examination of Dhiab, ahead of a motion hearing in September.

Kessler's order came a year after she rejected a petition from Dhiab to halt his force-feeding, saying US law didn't allow the court to do so.

At that time, she urged President Barack Obama to review the issue to see if the controversial practice should end.

Bogdan led Guantanamo's joint detention group until June this year.

Dhiab's lawyer Eric Lewis welcomed Kessler's latest order, telling AFP: "We are interested in transparency. We are interested in making sure that our client doesn't suffer unnecessarily."

He added that his client - involved in an ongoing federal court case that seeks to end tube feeding, which some medical professionals deem unethical - is currently "in bad shape" and confined to a wheelchair.

Kessler also requested more details from Guantanamo's past and present senior medical officers about the force-feeding process, including the risks of doing so through the nose for three days at a time.

There are still 149 inmates at the prison at the eastern tip of Cuba set up under former president George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The detainees brought to the US naval base were purportedly terror suspects labeled as "enemy combatants."

But most have never been charged in court, and the US government is trying to speed up the transfer of the remaining inmates to their home nations or third countries.

Like other inmates, 9/11 defendants are still waiting for their trial to end. There have been some complications however, as one of the four defendants might be deemed not mentally competent enough to stand in a joint trial.

Judge Army Colonel James Pohl ordered Ramzi Binalshibh removed from the joint trial in July after his disruptions in court and complaints about what his attorney called "noise and vibrations" at his cell at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, raised concern about his mental competence.

US Justice Department prosecutors say Binalshibh, a 42-year-old Yemeni, might be delusional but still is competent to stand trial. They filed a motion for Pohl to reconsider his order to try Binalshibh separately, saying it would create delays.

"Having it done one time for all remains the best answer for all right now," prosecutor Clay Trivett said in a pretrial hearing. Binalshibh has been held in Guantanamo for almost eight years.

James Harrington, the defense attorney for Binalshibh, called his case "a very difficult issue" that demands a separate trial.

Pohl ruled Binalshibh should rejoin the joint trial when it resumes on Thursday while he considers whether a separate trial would be more appropriate.

Binalshibh and the other four defendants, including accused September 11 attack mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, face possible death penalties if convicted.

Binalshibh is accused of wiring money and passing on information from al-Qaeda leaders to the hijackers who slammed airplanes into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside, killing 2,976 people. He was captured in Pakistan in 2002.

The trial was delayed for months after the judge ordered competency tests for Binalshibh. Military psychiatrists have been unable to agree on his mental health.

A second defendant, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a 46-year-old Saudi, also has requested a separate trial. He argues his alleged role was smaller than his co-defendants' and joint prosecution would violate his rights to a fair trial and to confront accusers.

The pretrial hearing was monitored by Reuters through closed circuit television at Fort Meade, outside Washington.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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