Enter your email address below and subscribe to our newsletter

The Many Challenges at Guantánamo Bay, Encapsulated in One Case

The Many Challenges at Guantánamo Bay, Encapsulated in One Case

Share your love

Many of the questions confronting the future of prison operations at Guantánamo Bay converged in the sentencing case of a confessed commander of Al Qaeda, from its aging population to secret plea deals.

At a hearing last month the prisoner sat in a padded hospital chair, with a four-wheeled walker and grab stick in reach, barely resembling the revered commander of insurgents he once was in Afghanistan. A paralyzing spine disease has left him disabled, and his lawyers say he is in constant pain.

In the jury box opposite the prisoner, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, 11 U.S. military officers looked fit and polished in their service uniforms. The panel sentenced him to the maximum possible punishment, 30 more years in prison, unaware that his fate had already been determined in a secret plea deal two years earlier.

Mr. Hadi, who was captured in 2006, is now one of just four convicted prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. But like most of the 30 detainees there, he has theoretically been approved for transfer to a stable, trusted U.S. ally. At 63, he is also the oldest prisoner and among the sickest in the offshore operation’s aging and ailing population.

In 2022, a Pentagon official in charge of the court agreed to cap his sentence at 10 years in consideration of his plea and cooperation with the U.S. government. In other words, the prisoner could go free in 2032. Under the agreement, he could leave earlier, if a country can be found to take him into custody and provide health care for him.

Eighteen other prisoners who have been held longer than Mr. Hadi have also been approved for transfer with security arrangements.

Most of the cleared detainees cannot be repatriated because the United States deems their home countries too unstable or their governments too hostile to track and rehabilitate them. This group includes 11 Yemenis, a Somali and a Libyan who have never been charged or convicted.

For Mr. Hadi, that means he cannot join his wife and four adult children, all citizens of Afghanistan, his adopted homeland. U.S. diplomats have discussed his case with other countries. None have agreed to take on the plight of an admitted war criminal in need of continuing medical care following six operations on his spine at Guantánamo.

The sentencing trial also served as a model for resolving Guantánamo’s long-running war crimes cases through plea agreements.

Under the arcane process of military commissions, a judge could not simply sentence Mr. Hadi. Instead, the Pentagon airlifted the panel of military officers to Guantánamo from U.S. bases around the globe and put on a two-week sentencing case, a mini-trial.

The panel was given a detailed 18-page, 124-paragraph document, essentially a sworn confession worked out with prosecutors, and time to study it. In it, Mr. Hadi told his life story. He explained that he fled to Afghanistan to avoid returning to the Iraqi army and serving in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, and later became part of Al Qaeda’s inner circle.

He agreed that insurgent forces he commanded unlawfully used the cover of civilians in attacks that killed 17 U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004.

Then it was the victims’ turn. Three veterans of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and the father and sister of a commando who was killed in combat told of their continuing trauma even now, years after the end of America’s longest war. They described broken homes and broken bodies, feelings of survivor’s guilt and of helplessness.

Master Sgt. Robert Stout, retired, described surviving a failed suicide bombing and then dismantling the device — a taxi laden with explosives, an experience that has left him with debilitating stress. Still, he said to the prisoner: “We live, you lose.”

Mr. Hadi expressed remorse and asked for mercy.

Two-thirds of the detainees now at Guantánamo spent time in the secret interrogation program of the C.I.A., according to a mostly classified 2014 Senate study of the program, now outlawed. And Mr. Hadi’s sentencing hearing offered a rare glimpse inside.

Using government-produced forensic 360-degree photography, Mr. Hadi and one of his defense lawyers briefed the jurors on the “black site” where Mr. Hadi was held incommunicado in Afghanistan before he was transferred to Guantánamo Bay in 2007. They showed a six-square-foot empty white “quiet room” where Mr. Hadi was held for about three months — minus a smear of blood on a wall, a bucket for a toilet and a thin mat on the floor that the prisoner testified he rolled up as a pillow.

Mr. Hadi’s legal team managed to get the material declassified, and over the objections of Douglas J. Short, the lead prosecutor, the images of the windowless cell were shown to the public, which on that day in court consisted of the victims, two law students and one reporter.

Mr. Hadi’s disability was also on display throughout the hearing, starting with soldiers bringing him in a wheelchair to the courtroom, where a hospital bed was positioned in a far corner. The judge held short morning sessions before Mr. Hadi’s prescribed painkillers made him too drowsy to follow the proceedings.

Defense lawyers in other cases see him as the vanguard of emerging health problems in a population of prisoners who have traumatic brain injuries, mental illnesses, gastrointestinal disorders and back and neck injuries. The lawyers placed the blame for the prisoners’ health problems on the years they were held in the black sites.

The military judge, Col. Charles L. Pritchard Jr., said that certain accommodations had been made “to ensure the accused’s right to attend these legal proceedings is not adversely impacted.” He cautioned the jury not to hold that against the prisoner.

Maj. Lucas R. Huisenga, a Marine lawyer on the defense team, said Mr. Hadi had received substandard medical care at Guantánamo’s “substandard facility” and as a result “is left permanently disabled and in chronic, severe pain.” Any U.S. service member in similar circumstances would have been medically evacuated to better-equipped military medical facilities in the United States.

Congress forbids the transfer of detainees to the United States for health care or any other reason.

Instead, when Mr. Hadi was found partially paralyzed and incontinent in his prison cell in September 2017, the Navy dispatched a junior, inexperienced surgeon to Guantánamo with inadequate resources to operate on him, Major Huisenga said.

Mr. Short, the prosecutor, defended Mr. Hadi’s care as “certainly not inadequate” and dismissed his diagnosis of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder as probably the result of guilty feelings.

Source link

Share your love
Articles: 2094

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay informed and not overwhelmed, subscribe now!