July 15, 2008, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba – The U.S. military subjected a former driver for Osama bin Laden to a sleep-deprivation program in 2003, his defense lawyers said Monday, raising the latest allegations of a tactic criticized as inhumane.
The alleged abuse spanned 50 days when Salim Ahmed Hamdan was making statements to be used against him at a war crimes trial scheduled to start next week, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, his Pentagon-appointed defense lawyer.
Mizer said the abuse of his client by a program known as “Operation Sandman” should be grounds for dismissing the charges and indicated he will seek sanctions against prosecutors for not providing evidence of the abuse until Saturday. The military tribunal had set a December deadline to provide the prison records.
Michael Berrigan, deputy chief military defense counsel for the tribunals, said it was “outrageous” for prosecutors to wait so long before delivering the evidence.
“It’s about as far from a fair proceedings as you can get,” he said.
There was no immediate response from prosecutors.
The U.S. military has used sleep deprivation to prepare detainees for interrogation at Guantanamo. A recent report by the office of the Justice Department’s inspector general said “Operation Sandman” involved frequently rousting prisoners and moving them between cells to keep them off balance.
Lawyers for two other detainees facing war-crimes charges, Mohammed Jawad and Omar Khadr, have alleged in recent months the military used sleep-deprivation to punish or soften up their clients.
Prosecutors in Jawad’s case have said sleep deprivation is not torture.
Mizer said the military began subjecting Hamdan to “Operation Sandman,” on June 11, 2003. Records show he also received a visit at the time from “Alfred Hitchcock,” a reference that the military has not explained. “It’s obviously code name for something,” the lawyer said.
Hamdan, who military records show is about 37, was captured at a roadblock in Afghanistan in November 2001, allegedly with two surface-to-air missiles in the car. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted on charges of conspiracy and supporting terrorism.
His lawyers say the new evidence will support their bid to dismiss statements he made under coercion. In the past, they have alleged he faced beatings in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and extended periods of solitary confinement at Guantanamo, where he arrived in May 2002.
Also Monday, the Navy judge in the case ordered the government to allow the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and other “high-value” prisoners to provide testimony at Hamdan’s trial.
Prosecutors had opposed allowing the high-value prisoners to testify, saying the men could potentially reveal classified information such as details about their treatment while held at secret CIA prisons overseas.
But the judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, said the government must find a way to provide the testimony, since it is relevant to the case.
Hamdan is one of 20 Guantanamo detainees facing charges. Prosecutors plan to charge as many as 80 prisoners, but the tribunals have been delayed so far by repeated legal setbacks.