Accused 9/11 suspect held in isolation at Guantanamo Bay as ‘punishment for complaining’
Man accused of helping plot the attacks is said to be on hunger strike to protest against his treatment
Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the alleged deputy plotter of the September 11 terrorist attacks, is being held in an isolation cell with only a prayer rug and Koran – no bed and no running water – as punishment for protesting conditions in his Guantanamo confinement, his lawyer said on Saturday.
Bin al-Shibh, 45, has for years claimed that somebody is causing his cell to vibrate and making noises in a campaign of sleep deprivation reminiscent of his 2002-2006 abuse in CIA custody. Prosecutors dismiss the complaint as untrue. A US military doctor at one point treated him as delusional.
“He’s in really, really bad shape,” the Yemeni captive’s capital defence lawyer Jim Harrington said, adding that he’s been on a water-only hunger strike since he was moved into a disciplinary cell on April 12 at Camp 7, the housing for former CIA black site prisoners at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“They’ve really, really made it much worse, much more akin to what he was subjected to in the black sites,” Harrington said. “He’s clearly being re-traumatised right now.”
Bin al-Shibh allegedly aspired to become one of the suicide hijackers. But US diplomats in Germany four times denied him a US visa. So he is instead accused of helping al-Qaeda operations chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed organise the attacks that killed 2,976 people in New York, at the Pentagon and on an aeroplane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field on September 11.
Bin al-Shibh told his lawyers in recent meetings that, as part of his punishment, he has no bed, no mattress, and only gets one hour a day of access to legal materials.
Guards have also restricted his access to his legal mail, Harrington said, meaning he gets material from his lawyers for just one hour a day and must return it, with any response within that hour.
Navy Commander Anne Leanos, the prison spokeswoman, did not respond to questions about the situation on Saturday morning. Leanos has never commented on individual captive cases nor has she answered questions about conditions at Camp 7, the most clandestine lock-up at Guantanamo. In general, the prison has a disciplinary matrix for bad behaviour, with guards taking away so-called comfort items based upon the seriousness of an infraction.
But Harrington said some of the punishment violates the trial judge’s orders governing access to legal materials, and is likely to come up at the next pretrial hearing at Guantanamo from April 30 to May 4. In past hearings, Bin al-Shibh has been so disruptive that a judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, ejected him from court four times in two days.
Bin al-Shibh told his legal team that he is apparently being punished for shouting at his guards, scratching the lens of his cell’s monitoring camera, and for putting stones in his toilet to cause another captive’s toilet to overflow.
Camp 7 is a two-tier, two-block prison of 28 cells with a command centre that tracks prisoners’ movements by cameras and communicates with them through an intercom system, according to court testimony and documents obtained by The Miami Herald.
Now, if Bin al-Shibh wants to wash or flush a toilet he has to ask that running water be restored.
Guards have also threatened that if Bin al-Shibh continues to misbehave he’ll be confined to a padded cell. Harrington said the guards did not tell the Yemeni this directly, but instead notified his block leader, an uncharged captive known as Abu Zubaydah, who passed on the message.
Bin al-Shibh, Mohammed and three other defendants could face the death penalty if they are convicted at trial, for which no start date has been set.