A military judge ruled Thursday that a defendant in the 9/11 case who was tortured by the CIA was not eligible for a death penalty trial, ruling that the prisoner was too psychologically damaged to help to defend oneself.
Col. Matthew N. McCall, the judge, disqualified Ramzi bin al-Shibh, 51, from what was a conspiracy case involving five defendants in an 11-page ruling issued Thursday evening.
Mr. bin al-Shibh was accused of complicity in the attacks that killed 2,976 people and is accused of helping organize a cell of hijackers in Hamburg, Germany, whose leader commandeered Flight No. 11 and flew it to the World Trade Center. September 11, 2001.
The judge on Friday ordered the continuation of preliminary proceedings with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, accused of being the mastermind of the plot, and the three other defendants, but excluded Mr. bin al-Shibh from the hearing.
The ruling appears to tacitly vindicate the contention of the prisoner’s criminal lawyer, David I. Bruck, that CIA torture had driven the Yemeni prisoner insane.
Prosecutors had urged the judge to reject the Aug. 24 finding of a team of U.S. military psychiatrists and a forensic psychologist that Mr. bin al-Shibh suffered from “a mental illness or defect” that made him made him “unable to understand the nature of the procedure”. against him or cooperate intelligently” with his legal team.
The mental health board diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder with secondary psychotic features as well as delusional disorder.
For years, Mr. bin al-Shibh said he was tormented by invisible forces that vibrated his bed and cell and stung his genitals, depriving him of sleep. He disrupted court proceedings and prison peace for “high-value detainees” who were subjected to “extensive interrogations” such as simulated drowning, beatings and sleep deprivation while in detention by the CIA.
Mr. Bruck told the judge on Tuesday that Mr. bin al-Shibh was a broken man since his detention by the CIA from 2002 to 2006, during which he was held in solitary confinement, deprived of sleep and mistreated. other ways, including being forced to remain chained and in a diaper for up to three days at a time. He described Mr. bin al-Shibh as being so trapped in an endless cycle of sleep deprivation that he could not help but fight back.
The prisoner’s “complex delusions and hallucinations” are “ubiquitous” in legal meetings, said Mr. Bruck, an American lawyer who specializes in capital punishment cases.
In response to a question from the judge, Mr. Bruck said his team spent almost all of their time with the prisoner trying to placate him by documenting his delusions or trying to intercede on his behalf with the prisoner commanders. , who responded to his outbursts of anger and attempts to damage his cell by placing him in isolation reminiscent of his solitary confinement.
“The totality of the facts demonstrates a defendant entirely focused on his delusions,” Colonel McCall wrote. “He constantly focuses his lawyer’s work on putting an end to his delusional harassment, (which) demonstrates the impairment of his ability to assist his defense.”
By excluding Mr. bin al-Shibh from the case, the judge essentially stayed the prosecution until his sanity was restored.
Pentagon prosecutor Clayton G. Trivett Jr. argued that the diagnosis was unreliable and legally flawed because the Defense Department’s three mental health experts focused on an irrational request made by Mr. bin al-Shibh at the start of plea negotiations last March. year.
Until this week, prosecutors were offering a maximum sentence of life in prison, rather than the possibility of capital punishment, in exchange for detailed admissions of guilt from a defendant willing to describe his role in the attacks.
Mr. bin al-Shibh had only one demand, which essentially disqualified him from negotiations: that the prison stop assaulting him with its invisible system of sleep deprivation. Prison staff members testified that this is not the case.
The judge sealed the committee’s full 80-page report at the request of Mr bin al-Shibh’s legal team, but released a single-page summary of their findings.
On Thursday evening, Mr. Bruck said that “it is no longer possible to deny … that the CIA’s torture program caused profound harm to the people who were subjected to it.” He added that although the commission declared Mr bin al-Shibh unfit in August, “there is nothing new regarding his condition at the moment”.
“He was like that all the time,” Mr. Bruck said. “It took so long to admit it.”