Complaints, Senate report shine spotlight on secret Gitmo camp

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — Attorney James Connell has visited his client inside the secret Guantanamo prison complex known as Camp 7 only once, taken in a van with covered windows on a circuitous trek to disguise the route on the scrub brush-and-cactus covered military base.

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — Attorney James Connell has visited his client inside the secret Guantanamo prison complex known as Camp 7 only once, taken in a van with covered windows on a circuitous trek to disguise the route on the scrub brush-and-cactus covered military base.

Connell is allowed to say virtually nothing about what he saw in the secret camp where the most notorious terror suspects in U.S. custody are held except that it is unlike any detention facility he’s encountered.

“It’s much more isolating than any other facility that I have known,” the lawyer says. “I’ve done cases from the Virginia death row and Texas death row and these pretrial conditions are much more isolating.”

The Camp 7 prison unit is so shrouded in secrecy that its location on the U.S. base in Cuba is classified and officials refuse to discuss it. Now, two separate but related events are forcing it into the limelight.

In Washington, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted on April 3 to declassify a portion of a review of the U.S. detention and interrogation program in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attack. The report, the release of which is opposed by the CIA, is expected to be sharply critical of the treatment of prisoners, including some now held in Camp 7.

And on Monday, a judge in Guantanamo will open a hearing into the sanity of one of those prisoners, Ramzi Binalshibh, whose courtroom outbursts about alleged mistreatment in Camp 7 have halted the already bogged-down effort to try five men in the Sept. 11 attacks, all of whom are held there.

Both issues are deeply intertwined. Binalshibh has accused the government of making noises and vibrations inside Camp 7 to deliberately keep him awake, reminiscent of the intentional sleep deprivation, along with other forms of abuse, that his lawyers say he endured at the hands of the CIA from the time he was captured in Pakistan in September 2002 to when he was brought to Guantanamo four years later.

Military officials deny doing anything intentional to disrupt his sleep. Prosecutors say his accusations are delusions, though they still believe he is mentally competent to stand trial. His lawyers say he is competent, but are not convinced officials have adequately investigated his complaints.

His mental state is somewhat murky. Court records show Binalshibh has been treated while in Guantanamo with medications that are used for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but he did not participate in a court-ordered mental evaluation in January.

The commander of Camp 7 is expected to testify at the hearing as are three military psychiatrists who have examined Binalshibh, according to a witness list disclosed Sunday. All will testify under pseudonyms at a proceeding likely to last until at least Tuesday.

The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, could decide to sever Binalshibh from the case against his co-defendants, all of whom are being tried by military commission on charges that include terrorism and murder and face the death penalty if convicted.

Another possibility is that his inability to sleep and his fevered outbursts in court, which prompted the judge to order him removed from the courtroom in December, are a result of post-traumatic stress from his treatment at secret CIA interrogation centres known as black sites, said Anne Fitzgerald, director of the research and crisis response program for Amnesty International.

“The problem is that because everything is done in secret and there is so little opportunity for even the lawyers to have access to their clients it’s difficult for anybody to figure out what is actually happening,” said Fitzgerald, who is at the base to observe the sanity board proceedings.

Camp 7 has never been part of the scripted tours of Guantanamo offered to journalists and there are no published photos. It’s not even mentioned on a military media handout about the detention centre, which otherwise notes that the military “conducts safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees.”

Military officials, while insisting that they adhere to international human rights standards, refuse to describe Camp 7. “I’m not even functionally allowed to discuss the place,” said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman.

A few facts have come out through government reports and court testimony. It apparently holds 15 of the 154 prisoners at Guantanamo. Those held in Camp 7 include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attack and is on trial with Binalshibh. Also held there is a Saudi prisoner charged with orchestrating the deadly bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

The men are apparently held in solid-walled cells — as opposed to the cage-like structures used soon after the U.S. began using Guantanamo as a prison in 2002 — that are intended to limit their ability to communicate with each other, and they are allowed up to four hours per day of exercise, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

The secret camp also is apparently falling apart.

Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of Miami-based Southern Command, told Congress that Camp 7 has become “increasingly unsustainable due to drainage and foundation issues” and needs to be replaced. But officials balked at the proposed $49 million price tag and the military scrapped the idea for a replacement and is making repairs out of existing funds, said Army Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo.

James Harrington, a lawyer for Binalshibh, said he does not believe problems with the foundation — which Julian described as “heaving and shifting” — are responsible for the vibrations and sounds that his client says keep him awake.

The judge granted all five defence teams a request to visit Camp 7 one time for up to 12 hours to inspect conditions. Because of an ongoing dispute over the rules for handling classified evidence however, only Connell, who represents defendant Ammar al-Baluchi, has been inside. He went in August, riding in the van with windows covered in heavy-duty paper and a makeshift interior barrier so he could not see the driver.

It is not clear whether one visit closely monitored by prison authorities would reveal the cause of Binalshibh’s distress. His previous military lawyers, Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier and Lt. Richard Federico, were allowed inside Camp 7 in November 2008 for about two hours. With Connell, they are the only other defence lawyers known to have ever been inside the facility. They could not determine a cause for his complaints.

The secrecy and security, Lachelier recalls, seemed excessive then and she remains skeptical. “There’s no way to explain the security measures that they use from the perspective of the safety of the guards or the safety of the detainees, beyond that they must be hiding something.”

———

Ben Fox on Twitter: https://twitter.com/benfoxatap

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

More than 120,000 Albertans have signed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the first two days of appointment bookings. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta Health Services apologizes after seniors struggle to book vaccine appointments

The CEO and president of Alberta Health Services is apologizing after seniors… Continue reading

Red Deer’s Kyle Moore, 26, will be a houseguest on Season 9 of Big Brother Canada. (Photo courtesy Big Brother Canada)
Red Deer man will be a houseguest on Big Brother Canada

A Red Deer man will be a houseguest on the upcoming season… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools says that in the absence of additional funds from the provincial government, there was no consideration of using alternate classroom sites in the district. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Red Deer Public Schools launches online engagement process

Red Deer Public schools is seeking community input to help ensure a… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mason Ward battles with a Medicine Hat Tigers’ forward during the WHL Central Division season opener. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers come back to spoil Red Deer Rebels home opener

It’s been nearly 345 days since the Red Deer Rebels last played… Continue reading

Students walk into Hunting Hills High School, which is one of the Red Deer Public Schools with solar panels on its roof. (Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff)
Red Deer high school was placed in lockdown following potential threat

Hunting Hills High School was placed in a lockdown Friday after Red… Continue reading

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough to cover the average pinky nail but is made up of more than 280 components and requires at least three manufacturing plants to produce. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
From science to syringe: COVID-19 vaccines are miracles of science and supply chains

OTTAWA — A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

Wetaskiwin RCMP say a Maskwacis man died after he was struck by a vehicle. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan used handful of times; Mounties review their role

REGINA — A first-of-its-kind law in Canada meant to warn those at… Continue reading

The Magpie river in Quebec is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Boreal River MANDATORY CREDIT
Quebec river granted legal rights as part of global ‘personhood’ movement

MONTREAL — With its kilometres of rapids and deep blue waters winding… Continue reading

Thorough sanding of a table top is usually the first step to renewing a finish. Wax contaminants can sometimes still remain on a surface like this after sanding. Cleaning with rubbing alcohol and a rag gets rid of these contaminants without leaving a residue behind. (Photo by Steve Maxwell)
Houseworks: Fixing wood finishes

Q: How can I stop polyurethane from beading up on a mahogany… Continue reading

Need a knife? There are knives of all shapes and sizes at The Kitchen Store.
Hints from Heloise: Finding a good set of kitchen knives

Dear Readers: A good set of knives in the kitchen is a… Continue reading

Runner Melissa Bishop-Nriagu speaks to the media at the opening news conference at the Canadian Track and Field Championships Thursday, July 25, 2019 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they try to qualify for Tokyo

Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they try to qualify for Tokyo

Most Read