WASHINGTON– A military judge at Guantanamo Bay has declared one of the Sept. 11 defendants incompetent to stand trial after a military medical board concluded that the man’s mistreatment while he was in CIA custody years earlier had left him permanently psychotic.
The judge, Colonel Matthew McCall, said Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s finding of incompetence meant the prosecution of his four co-defendants would continue without him. Al-Shibh would remain in detention.
McCall made his decision Thursday evening. Preliminary hearings in the trial of the other defendants resumed Friday in the military courtroom at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. No trial date has been set for the case, which has been slowed by logistical problems, high turnover and legal challenges.
Yemeni al-Shibh is accused of organizing a cell of 19 hijackers who commandeered four commercial planes to carry out the September 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania . These attacks were the deadliest of their kind on American soil.
The attacks shook Americans and people around the world. They led the George W. Bush administration to take extraordinary measures in what it calls a war on terrorism: invading Afghanistan and Iraq, implementing an extraordinary program of interrogation and detention of the CIA, and create the special prison and the Guantanamo military commission.
Last month, a military medical board diagnosed al-Shibh with post-traumatic stress disorder with secondary psychosis, and linked it to the torture and solitary confinement he suffered during his four years of detention by the CIA, immediately after his arrest in 2002.
Since his transfer to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Al-Shibh has complained for years that his guards attacked him, including with invisible rays, in order to deprive him of sleep and cause him pain. McCall’s ruling noted that psychological reports dating back to at least 2004 had documented al-Shibh’s mental problems.
Defense attorney David Bruck told McCall during a hearing Tuesday that al-Shibh’s excessive focus on trying to stop the invisible attacks and his insistence that his lawyers do the same made him incapable of taking a significant part in its defense.
Bruck highlighted what he said was al-Shibh’s solitary confinement for four years in detention at CIA black sites, and torture that included being forced to stand without sleeping for three days straight, naked except for one diaper and doused with cold water in air-conditioned rooms, to make the man believe that his American guards were still conspiring to deprive him of sleep.
Bruck indicated during Tuesday’s hearing that al-Shibh should remain in custody while court officials wait for him to become mentally competent again, if that ever happens.
Defense lawyers and a U.N.-appointed investigator have argued that the five 9/11 co-defendants should receive physical and psychological care for the lasting effects of the torture they suffered while in CIA custody under the Bush administration.
Bruck told McCall during Tuesday’s hearing that treatment for PTSD would offer the best hope that Al-Shibh would regain his ability to stand trial. He said shelving the U.S. prosecution of the man would be “an opportunity for the country to account for the harm” caused by what he called the CIA’s “human experimentation program.”
The five 9/11 defendants were subjected to repeated simulated drownings, beatings, repeated violent searches of their rectal cavities, sleep deprivation and other abuses while they were on so-called CIA black sites.
The CIA says it stopped its detention and interrogation program in 2009. A Senate investigation concluded that the abuses failed to yield useful information.
President Joe Biden this month refused to approve trauma care when defense attorneys introduced it as a condition in plea negotiations.
USA News Gb1