Judge Bars Coerced Statements in Guantanamo Trial

The military commission trial of Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan, got underway today.

The Judge barred the prosecution from introducing statements Hamdan made while detained at Bagram AFB in Afghanistan because they were the product of overly coercive techniques.

The judge said the prosecution cannot use a series of interrogations at the Bagram air base and Panshir, Afghanistan, because of the "highly coercive environments and conditions under which they were made."

At Bagram, the judge found Hamdan was kept in isolation 24 hours a day with his hands and feet restrained, and armed soldiers prompted him to talk by kneeing him in the back. His captors at Panshir repeatedly tied him up, put a bag over his head and knocked him the ground.

Other rulings: [More...]

In addition to the other interrogations, the judge said he would throw out statements whenever a government witness is unavailable to vouch for the questioners' tactics.

This is significant because according to the defense, the prosecution has refused to reveal the names of many of Hamdan's interrogators. (See here, pdf, page 58.)

According to a defense psychiatric expert (same link, page 67 ), here's what Hamdan endured:

a. Shortly after his arrival in Takta Pol, Mr. Hamdan witnessed Afghani forces shoot
and kill the Arab who arrived at the checkpoint ahead of him.

b. Mr. Hamdan witnessed other detainees being beaten at Bagram and at Kandahar. Guards at Kandahar threatened to torture and kill Mr. Hamdan.

c. Guards at Kandahar sexually mistreated and humiliated Mr. Hamdan.

d. A female interrogator in Guantanamo sexually abused Mr. Hamdan.

e. In January 2006, after ending a hunger strike, Mr. Hamdan was discharged from the hospital, where he had been force fed under medical supervision. He expected to be returned to his previous housing. However, he was taken to a different camp, Camp Oscar. He was strapped and immobilized in a safety chair and told he would be force fed. Mr. Hamdan protested that he would eat voluntarily. Despite his statement, Mr. Hamdan was force fed. Personnel administering the force feeding did not identify themselves as medical professionals by insignia or name. It is not clear that they were medical personnel. When asked, Mr. Hamdan stated he did not know if they were doctors or butchers. Mr. Hamdan was kept strapped in the safety chair for approximately four and a half hours. Personnel did not allow Mr. Hamdan to use the bathroom when he requested to do so. He was forced to soil his clothing and remain seated in his excretions for several hours.

In addition, the judge today said Hamdan's statements at Gitmo made when he needed medical attention can come into evidence.

The apparent link between medical care and Hamdan's cooperation with interrogators, he said, was "the natural consequence of agents seeking to help detainees in order to build rapport."

... [He] also withheld a ruling on a key interrogation at Guantanamo in May 2003 until defense lawyers can review roughly 600 pages of confinement records provided by the government on Sunday night.

On page 63, the defense expert describes Hamdan's psychiatric condition:

I have assessed Mr. Hamdan’s psychiatric symptoms at each of our meetings over the past three years, including those of February 2008. At each of our meetings Mr. Hamdan met diagnostic criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Major Depression. When I first met with Mr. Hamdan in March 2005, I asked him why he did not seek mental health treatment for his psychiatric symptoms. He told me that he did not trust any providers of medical services at Guantanamo, as he felt they had colluded with guards in manipulating his conditions of confinement and access to medical care to increase the likelihood that he would cooperate with interrogators.

Mr. Hamdan stated that guards would withhold access to medical care. Later during an interrogation, the interrogator would ask Mr. Hamdan if he needed medical attention. Medical personnel would then be summoned and would examine and treat Mr. Hamdan in the interrogation room. Mr. Hamdan stated that at times when he was brought to the infirmary, his interrogator would be in the exam room.

Mr. Hamdan felt that access to prescribed treatment was also contingent on cooperation with interrogators. As a result of these concerns, Mr. Hamdan lost trust and faith in the system of medical care at Guantanamo and withdrew from it, except when in unmanageable pain.

His psychiatric condition, according to the defense expert, is perilous.

My last meeting with Mr. Hamdan took place in February 2008. At that time Mr. Hamdan’s symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder included nightmares, intrusive thoughts, memories and images, amnesia for details of traumatic events, lack of future orientation, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration and memory, exaggerated startle response, and hypervigilence. Symptoms of Major Depression included depressed mood, sleep and cognitive disturbances as above, anergia, anhedonia, hopelessness, and helplessness.

Of greatest concern was that for the first time since I met with Mr. Hamdan, he endorsed the presence of episodic suicidal ideation. He was not acutely suicidal at the time I evaluated him, but did state that it no longer mattered to him if he lived or died.

Hamdan has a fourth grade education.

As a result of the conditions Mr. Hamdan has experienced and continues to experience during his interrogations at Guantanamo and his prolonged involvement in the Military Commissions, he has become extremely hopeless. In addition, he has developed other symptoms of PTSD, including a sense of detachment and estrangement from others, and a sense of a foreshortened future. Mr. Hamdan stated that his interrogators at Guantanamo initially assured him that he was just a driver, that there was no evidence against him, and that he would not be put on trial. The interrogators told him that they would write a positive report about him and that they would get him home to Yemen.

Mr. Hamdan stated that because of the American reputation of upholding human rights and the reputation of the American justice system, he believed the interrogators. He thought that the authority the interrogators reported to would make a judgment about him, that there would be justice, and that he would be sent home. The belief that the interrogators had the ability to have him sent home was broken only when Mr. Hamdan was put in isolative confinement in Camp Echo, and an officer there told him there would be no more interrogations.

Mr. Hamdan fully realized that the interrogators had lied to him only when Mr. Swift (at that time, Detailed Defense Counsel) and Mr. Schmitz (the interpreter) arrived at Camp Echo to meet with Mr. Hamdan in January 2004. Mr. Hamdan still does not fully trust that the members of his defense team are really who they say they are.

In February 2008, Mr. Hamdan stated that he thinks the defense team may be interrogators, and that even I am there to interrogate him. As a result of Mr. Hamdan’s experience with interrogators, he feels detached and estranged from his attorneys. His hopelessness contributes to a sense that he will not have a future beyond confinement in Guantanamo.

Many of the pleadings in the case are available on this Defense Department webpage.

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  • Display: Sort:
    My country tis of thee (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by myiq2xu on Mon Jul 21, 2008 at 11:20:32 PM EST
    Sweet land of cruelty

    American justice at work (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by dws3665 on Mon Jul 21, 2008 at 11:22:36 PM EST
    A trial by a jury of your peers.*

    *Unless a Republican is President.

    "Judge bars coerced statements..." (none / 0) (#3)
    by clio on Tue Jul 22, 2008 at 12:19:55 AM EST
    How American of him.

    And not one of these monsters (none / 0) (#4)
    by weltec2 on Tue Jul 22, 2008 at 12:52:37 AM EST
    will be brought to trial. There will be no Nuremberg for these criminals. There will be no War Crimes trial for Bush, no charges of conflict of interest brought against Cheney. This is what we have come to as a nation.

    I hope this is not too far off-topic here... (none / 0) (#5)
    by EL seattle on Tue Jul 22, 2008 at 02:27:43 AM EST
    Good, but. . . (none / 0) (#6)
    by LarryInNYC on Tue Jul 22, 2008 at 05:51:45 AM EST
    not good enough.

    I've actually been pretty impressed with the military jurisprudence at Guantanamo -- we've heard about a number of military lawyers blowing the whistle and a number of positive decisions from military judges.

    Unfortunately, it's the decisions we haven't heard about, and the potentially overzealous and dishonest prosecutors who, for obvious reasons, haven't come forward that are the source of likely legal crimes that may or may not be going on (how could we know?) at Guantanamo.

    Couldn't everything the've said.... (none / 0) (#7)
    by kdog on Tue Jul 22, 2008 at 08:42:36 AM EST
    since being placed in chains be considered coerced?

    Chains are very coercive.

    have impeachment off the table didn't help! (none / 0) (#8)
    by hellothere on Tue Jul 22, 2008 at 10:53:54 AM EST
    i hold the democratic congress in contempt as well since 2006.