Judge in September 11 case visits former CIA black site

On Friday, military judges at Guantanamo Bay entered the security zone that housed the wartime prison for the first time, marking the former CIA “black site” facility at the center of controversy over the torture stain of September 11, 2001. I inspected it. case.

It was a remarkable moment in the 20-year history of the Guantanamo trial. No war tribunal judge had ever traveled eight miles to observe a detention operation. There, the military maintains the only known intact remains of an overseas prison network run by the CIA from 2002 to 2009.

However, the judge, Colonel Matthew N. McCall, ruled that the alleged mastermind of the attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and three co-defendants, who were in their fourth year in custody, voluntarily confessed to complicity in the attack during interrogation. The court is moving toward a verdict on whether or not it did so. According to FBI agents at Guantanamo Prison.

And the prison site he visited called Camp Echo played a central but secret role in this case. From 2003 to 2004, the CIA held five valuable prisoners near the prison facility but out of reach of the International Red Cross. It was part of a secret overseas network harboring around 120 “high-value detainees” in far-flung locations including Afghanistan, Thailand and Poland.

In April 2004, authorities closed the Guantanamo Bay facility for black people on the advice of the Justice Department, in order to avoid an impending U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would allow detention at U.S.-managed Guantanamo Bay later that year. , transferred these five prisoners to other secret facilities. Access to lawyers.

After President George W. Bush ordered the transfer of Mr. Mohammed and 13 other CIA prisoners to Guantanamo for trial in September 2006, federal agents moved the same portion of Camp Echo into what prosecutors described as a “clean It was used to obtain ostensibly legitimate confessions by what they called the “Team.”

At issue now is statements made in 2007 by the men, who are accused of being accomplices who helped Mr. Muhammad and the 19 other hijackers who took part in the Sept. 11 attacks. The question is whether it will be admitted in the final trial against the three men.

Prosecutors believe these interrogations are the most important evidence in the death penalty case, which has been mired in preliminary hearings since 2012. They argue that the statements were voluntary and therefore would be admissible.

Defense lawyers argue that by 2007, years of torture, solitary confinement and constant CIA briefings had conditioned them to be powerless to answer questions on demand. .

Military judges are generally not involved in the internment operation, which currently holds 30 prisoners. The judge called the commander into court to answer questions, and the lawyer submitted photos of prison conditions as court evidence.

A lawyer for one of the defendants, Ammar al-Baluch, asked the judge to tour the site, and the judge spent less than 20 minutes touring the premises, which is a wooden hut that includes two steel cells.

One half has a sleeping mat, a metal pallet for the shower, sink and toilet, which are also made of metal, Baluch’s lawyer Alka Pradhan told the court on Friday before the judge’s visit. He said he asked for it. The other half was set up as an interrogation room, with linoleum and bolts on the floor, where detainees’ ankles are shackled during court sessions, which are still held there.

At one point, she said, there was a “shackle to the ceiling” when it came to “information and belief.” But she did not specify her timing.

In the part of Camp Echo that reporters visited, the wooden huts have windows. But the part of the cabin where CIA prisoners were held and interrogated has no natural light unless the outside door is left open.

Pradhan said the tour was meant to support the defense’s argument that Baluch saw the 2007 interrogation as a new endpoint in a journey of torture in black institutions. Investigators testified that they shared McDonald’s meals and talked.

But Pradhan’s mere presence at a scene similar to earlier scenes of black people being beaten, naked, shackled and deprived of sleep “created intense fear within him” and led investigators to He said he had no choice but to speak out. I wanted to hear it.

Col. McCall left his black robe at the courthouse and drove himself and his aides to the checkpoint controlling access to the prison facility. It was a 15-minute drive there, past an Irish pub, a McDonald’s, and a bowling alley that serves about 5,000 residents. Most of them have never been allowed inside the prison area.

In 2019, the U.S. government declassified the fact that parts of Camp Echo had been Guantanamo’s dark site, but the defense team had known about the national security secret for years. Three defendants in the death penalty case told their lawyers that they had been there before.

One of them, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is accused of orchestrating the al-Qaeda suicide bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen on October 12, 2000. The case is the longest-running death penalty case at Guantanamo Bay.

Last year, the military judge in the case, Col. Lanny J. Acosta Jr., threw out statements Nasiri gave in a 2007 federal interrogation on ECHO, saying they stemmed from years of torture at the hands of the CIA.

“The 2007 FBI interviews actually took place in the same complex and perhaps even in the same cell,” he wrote.

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