GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — The alleged architect of the USS Cole bombing threatened on Wednesday to boycott his trial over what he called mistreatment at his prison camp for ex-CIA captives.
“I do intend to attend all future sessions,” Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 47, told the judge, Army Col. James Pohl. “But if the guards do not treat me better, I have the right not to come and let the world know that the judge sentenced me to death because I didn’t show up to court due to chains.”
Nashiri complained that his U.S. military guards gratuitously chain him up and transport him to court in a car that’s so uncomfortable he throws up en route.
Nashiri, who was water-boarded by the CIA before he got to Guantánamo in 2006, also said he has a back problem and belly chains exacerbate it.
He addressed the judge courteously, unchained and on his feet in a traditional gown topped by a sports jacket in what was meant to follow a scripted questioning of his understanding of his right to voluntarily skip pre-trial hearings. His manner was soft spoken and he was clean-shaven.
The Pentagon alleges the Saudi-born Nashiri, a self-described former millionaire from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, organized al-Qaida’s October 2000 attack on the Cole off Aden, Yemen. Two suicide bombers exploded a bomb-laden skiff alongside the $1 billion warship, killing 17 U.S. sailors. He faces an eventual death-penalty trial before a military jury at Guantánamo.
The prison camps would not speak directly to the captive's abuse claims. "All detainees are treated safely and humanely at all times," said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, detention center spokesman.
Pohl ordered the 9 a.m. session in the maximum-security courthouse as Hurricane Sandy churned south of Jamaica and was poised to strike this outpost in southeast Cuba by Thursday morning as a Category 1 hurricane.
No evacuations were planned but sirens wailed across the base warning of coming dangerous winds.
At the detention center, guards were moving Uighur captives from a wooden hut compound called Camp Iguana to a more hurricane-proof cement and steel prison building. Troops also readied supplies of Islamic approved halal rations in case Pentagon contractors couldn’t keep cooking at the prison’s seafront kitchen. Soldiers also unfastened blackout netting surrounding the camps; high winds could turn them into sails and tear fences out of the ground.
At the Navy base, the commander decided to close the schools for sailors’ children on Thursday and stop the ferry linking the two sides of the base at noon on Wednesday. Flights were cancelled, grounding elsewhere an incoming USO shuttle carrying the actor who promotes Dos Equis beer on TV as “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”
The Pentagon prosecutor prompted Wednesday’s showdown by insisting that Nashiri be brought to court to at the very least tell the judge for the record that he understood his right to voluntarily skip this week’s proceedings.
“The accused has to come in order to ensure the integrity of the trial as well as the compliance with that basic statutory approach,” said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief war crimes prosecutor.
Nashiri didn’t resist his early-morning move to the war court, prison officials said, and nobody was hurt getting him from his cell.
“The defendant moved compliantly from the camp this morning to report to court,” said Navy Capt. Robert Durand at the prison.
Nashiri’s lawyers had objected. They say Nashiri suffers post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his CIA treatment that, besides water boarding, including interrogating him with a revving drill near his hooded head and threatening his mother.
Had Nashiri refused to leave his cell, the former CIA captive would have been “forcibly extracted,” said defense attorney Navy Lt. Cmdr Stephen Reyes, referring to a Guantánamo prison technique by guards who tackle then shackle a captive to enforce compliance.
“The torture is a spectre that essentially encompasses the entire procedure here,” said Reyes, Nashiri’s Pentagon-paid defense attorney.
Reyes said “torture” 14 times in Tuesday’s short morning session.
Once Nashiri made his boycott speech, defense lawyers began arguing for access to evidence that they believe could help exonerate their client. He sat quietly watching the proceedings, and listening to English-Arabic translation through a headset.
The Pentagon calls Nashiri the mastermind of the attack. But his lawyers want information about a November 2002 U.S. drone strike in Yemen that killed another man, Qaed Salim Sinan al Harithi. Published reports at the time cited unnamed U.S. officials as describing Harithi as the Cole attack mastermind, and Nashiri’s lawyers want details about what justified targeting him.