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New delay hits 9/11 case at Guantanamo

Friday - 12/20/2013, 2:10am  ET

BEN FOX
Associated Press

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) -- A military judge on Thursday ordered a mental competency evaluation for a Guantanamo prisoner charged in the Sept. 11 attacks who has repeatedly disrupted pretrial proceedings in recent days, freezing preparations for a trial that has already been plagued by delays.

The request for an evaluation by government doctors of Ramzi Binalshibh came at the request of prosecutors, and over the objections of his defense team, who say a psychiatrist previously determined the defendant does not suffer from a psychiatric disorder.

Binalshibh has been ejected from a pretrial hearing four times this week as he refused orders from the judge to stop trying to address the court about what he says are efforts by guards to keep him awake at night by making banging sounds and vibrations in his cell inside Camp 7, the top secret section of the U.S. base in Cuba where he is held with four co-defendants in the Sept. 11 case.

"This is torture. You have to stop the sleep deprivation and the noises," Binalshibh said at one point as he was being led out of the courtroom during this week's proceedings.

Prosecutors say there is no evidence of any attempt by guards to deliberately keep him awake at night and a psychiatric evaluation must be conducted on Binalshibh to ensure he is competent to stand trial by military commission on charges that include murder and terrorism and for his alleged role providing logistical support to the hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

Until a doctor determines if he is mentally fit to stand trial, no other pretrial issues can be addressed in the case. "You've raised that in good faith and that's got to be resolved before anything else," Army Col. James Pohl told the prosecutors.

The judge adjourned a pretrial hearing that had been scheduled to run through Friday and said the court would tentatively re-convene for the next scheduled hearing in February. Much of the week had already been taken up with arguments on a defense motion to dismiss the case because they were denied adequate time and resources and access to their clients as the charges were being prepared.

Binalshibh, a 41-year-old from Yemen, has been held at Guantanamo since Sept. 2006, when he and his four co-defendants were brought to the base from secret CIA prisons overseas, where they were subjected to a U.S. government interrogation program that included tactics such as sleep deprivation and waterboarding that his lawyers say amounted to torture.

The five prisoners were indicted in May 2012 and the government has been holding a series of pretrial motions hearings to resolve preliminary legal issues that must be addressed before a trial that is likely at least a year away. President Barack Obama had shelved a previous attempt to try the men by military commission and attempted to move the case to civilian court but faced political opposition, prompting his administration to reverse course and charge them again before a tribunal at Guantanamo.

Binalshibh was evaluated by a government doctors during the first attempt to prosecute him but the results were not presented to the court before the case was withdrawn.

In June, his defense team submitted an affidavit in which they quote a military psychiatrist who examined repeatedly over nine months as saying the prisoner no signs of any psychiatric disorder. The doctor found that Binalshibh had a "logical and rational" thought process and none of the signs of someone of someone suffering from delusions.

He also found no evidence that anyone was deliberately trying to keep Binalshibh awake at night and suggested the prisoner's inability to sleep could be oversensitivity to noise, though he added that "I cannot rule out the possibility of a 'bad guard' creating noises because I am not there at all hours of the day and night."


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