July 16, 2008, Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba – The prosecution and defense witnesses have given widely different accounts of the way Osama bin Laden’s former driver has been treated in U.S. prisons in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.
Isolation cells, beatings and sexual humiliation during nearly seven years in captivity left Salim Hamdan traumatized and unable to trust even doctors trying to help him, a psychiatrist told the Guantanamo war crimes court.
But prosecutors pressing charges of conspiracy and providing support to terrorists against Hamdan say his allegations of mistreatment in U.S. custody are false. In questioning of witnesses this week, they said al Qaeda trains operatives to make false claims of abuse or torture.
The two starkly different views of the alleged abuse of the Yemeni national who has admitted driving for the al Qaeda leader, emerged in testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday from a psychiatrist who diagnosed Hamdan with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and from U.S. agents who interrogated him.
His trial, the first before the war crimes tribunals set up at the remote U.S. navy base in Cuba after the September 11 attacks on the United States, is scheduled to begin on Monday. Hamdan faces life in prison if convicted.
Hamdan’s attorneys are trying to have his statements to interrogators thrown out because, they say, he was coerced.
They say he was sexually humiliated by female interrogators and deprived of sleep, personal belongings and medical care.
Dr. Emily Keram, a psychiatrist who has treated PTSD patients, cited a laundry list of Hamdan’s traumas to the war crimes court at the remote U.S. navy base in Cuba. They included being threatened with death and witnessing a killing in Afghanistan and his long periods in solitary at Guantanamo.
Among the worst was the humiliation of a woman interrogator touching him improperly during questioning, she said. Hamdan and other Guantanamo detainees have accused agents of violating Muslim sexual taboos by acting provocatively around them.
“On a scale of one to ten that was about a ten,” she told the court. “To make that stop he would do anything.”
FBI DENIES MISTREATMENT
On Wednesday prosecutors called a parade of FBI agents to the stand. All had been involved in questioning Hamdan at the Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan shortly after his capture in 2001 or at Guantanamo and all denied seeing any abuse and said Hamdan had not complained to them of mistreatment.
Lawyers say Hamdan has over 80 disciplinary infractions on his record, among them throwing urine at a guard and inciting a riot. But his lawyers say most are minor, including citations for an overdue library book, possessing an equestrian magazine and having extra salt and pepper in his room.
Prosecutor John Murphy suggested to Keram that Hamdan’s life in war-torn Afghanistan, from transporting missiles to a battlefield to digging bodies out of bombed buildings, could have contributed to mental disorders.
“Could standing next to the most dangerous terrorist in the world … cause or aggravate PTSD?” he asked.
Keram said she believed the worst of Hamdan’s anxieties began with his November 2001 capture in Afghanistan, when he has said he saw a fellow detainee killed, was beaten and threatened with death.
As a result of his treatment at Guantanamo, Hamdan doesn’t trust doctors and won’t take medication that might help him, Keram said. One incident that contributed to his mistrust was a force-feeding at a Guantanamo prison camp.
When he was asked if it was a doctor who inserted a feeding tube down his nose, Hamdan said: “Doctors, butchers, I don’t know,” said Keram, who has spent over 100 hours with Hamdan.