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Freed Gitmo Detainee Tells Of Desecration

CBS News
CBS/AP
October 6, 2007

Mauritanian man confined for 5 years describes "screams caused by torture".

Nouakchott (CBS/AP). A Mauritanian man who spent nearly five years incarcerated at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay on Friday accused American soldiers of desecrating the Quran by urinating and stepping on it.

Though never tortured himself, Mohamed Lemine Ould Sidi Mohamed compared his detention to torture, telling The Associated Press in an interview: "Humiliating words against religion and against Muslims were a kind of currency they used every day."

U.S. authorities handed Mohamed to Mauritania last week, and he was briefly detained here. He was released Tuesday by Mauritanian officials.

During his incarceration by the Americans, Mohamed said he witnessed the abuse of the Muslim holy book.

"The soldiers urinated on the holy Quran to humiliate us. They stepped on the holy book and told us we are a nation that does not understand civilization," Mohamed said in Mauritania's desert capital, Nouakchott.

Afterward, he and other inmates he claimed witnessed similar incidents went on a hunger strike, and U.S. officials force-fed him, he said.

The inmates decided thereafter not to take Qurans into their cells to protect the book, relying instead on memorized passages, he said.

Following media reports that sparked protests around the world, a U.S. inquiry in 2005 found nine incidents in which Guantanamo civilian and military personnel had mishandled the Quran. They also found 15 cases of abuse of the book by detainees.

In January FBI agents documented more than two dozen incidents of possible mistreatment, including one detainee whose head was allegedly wrapped in duct tape for chanting the Quran. The reports describe a female guard who detainees said handled their genitals and wiped menstrual blood on their face. Another interrogator reportedly bragged to an FBI agent about dressing as a Catholic priest and “baptizing” a prisoner.

Officials say guards are trained not to show disrespect to the Quran and are careful not to do so.

"We respect and support the detainees' right to worship," a Guantanamo spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Rick Haupt, said Friday, adding that the military provides the men there with prayer rugs and prayer along with Qurans in multiple languages.

"Allegations from detainees is common behavior and in keeping with tactics taught to al Qaeda members through their training guide," he said.

In Mauritania, Mohamed said he did not know why he was arrested and said he had never had any connection to al Qaeda. He was returned to Mauritania on Sept. 26 after being cleared for release by a U.S. military review panel.

Mohamed said earlier this week that he had been attending an Islamic school in Pakistan when he was arrested by Pakistani police in 2002 and handed over to U.S. authorities.

"I spent five years in Guantanamo, but I don't know anyone in al Qaeda and I have no relations with those people," Mohamed said.

Mohamed said he was not abused himself at Guantanamo, but he believed others were. "Each time people were interrogated, we heard the screams caused by torture," he said.

Mauritanian police spokesman Mohamed Abdallahi said earlier in the week that police were questioning Mohamed about his life in Pakistan and his activities in that country in order to determine whether to file charges.

Two other Mauritanians remain in custody in Guantanamo. They are Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a technology engineer who was living in Germany when he was taken into custody in November, 2001 and Ahmed Ould Abdelaziz, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002.

Meanwhile, it was announced this week that 55 Saudi Arabians who were released recently from Guantanamo will receive about $2,600 each to celebrate the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, a Saudi newspaper reported Saturday.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz has granted the ex-Guantanamo prisoners temporarily release from detention centers in Saudi Arabia to spend time with their families during the holiday later this month, the Okaz newspaper reported.

The former Guantanamo detainees will return to police custody after the holiday in mid-October and will be referred to Saudi courts at end of this month for upcoming trials, the paper said.

U.S. authorities transferred 16 Saudis from Guantanamo Bay back to Saudi Arabia in September, the latest transfer of prisoners from the U.S. detention facility. Fewer than 40 Saudi detainees remain in detention.

The detention of Saudis at the U.S. Naval Base in southeast Cuba has been a source of tension with Riyadh, a close U.S. ally. Three Saudis have committed suicide inside the prison camp since it opened in 2002, according to the U.S. military.

Of the 759 people who have been held at Guantanamo, 136 have been Saudis, the second-largest group behind Afghan nationals, according to Defense Department documents released to the AP.

About 340 detainees remain in Guantanamo on suspicion of links to terrorism, al Qaeda or the Taliban. Most have been held for years without being charged.

More Charges From Tribunal Officers That Guantanamo Trials Are Flawed

A second Army officer who sat on the "enemy combatant" tribunals at Guantanamo has come forward to criticize the panels, saying in court papers that the proceedings favored the government and commanders reversed some decisions.

The criticism, in an affidavit filed Friday by attorneys for a Sudanese detainee, echo some charges made in June by Army Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, the first insider to publicly fault the proceedings.

At issue are the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which the military held for 558 detainees at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in 2004 and 2005, with handcuffed detainees appearing before panels made up of three officers.

Detainees had a military "personal representative" instead of a defense attorney, and all but 38 were determined to be "enemy combatants" who could be held indefinitely without charges.

In the new affidavit, an Army officer whose name is redacted from a version provided to The Associated Press, says panels relied on insufficient evidence.

He also said in six cases the panels unanimously declared the detainee was not an enemy combatant - but commanders ordered new hearings and the finding was reversed without sufficient new evidence.

"This declaration shows beyond any doubt that the CSRT process is deeply flawed, fundamentally unfair, and ultimately just a sham," said Wells Dixon, an attorney for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents dozens of Guantanamo detainees and provided a copy of the affidavit to the AP.

A Pentagon spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the affidavit, but military officials have consistently defended the tribunals and said they assured greater protections for people captured in wartime than have ever been provided.

Separately, the Pentagon announced Friday that the chief military prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, has asked to be reassigned - a move that comes as the U.S. prepares to file charges and hold tribunals for about 80 men held at Guantanamo.

The military did not disclose a reason for the prosecutor's decision. "We'd like to thank him for his service in the position while he held it," said spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.

The affidavit was filed in Washington by Steven Wax and William Teesdale, attorneys from the Federal Public Defender in Portland, Oregon, on behalf of Adel Hassan Hamad, who was captured in Pakistan in 2002. He was accused in his CSRT of working for a non-governmental organization that provided financial and logistical support to jihadists and of being associated with al Qaeda.

A later panel, an Administrative Review Board, found that Hamad could be released but he remains at Guantanamo, along with about 330 other men.

In previously filed court documents, his attorneys said Hamad, a father of four, worked in a charity hospital and has no involvement with terrorism and was not an enemy combatant.

The lawyers noted in those earlier court filings that military records showed an Army major who sat on the detainee's CSRT panel called Hamad's detention "unconscionable" and not based on sufficient evidence.

The Army major appears to be the same one who provided the new affidavit about the CSRT's though Wax declined to comment on the affidavit or the officer.

The lawyers say in the affidavit they obtained permission from U.S. military authorities to interview an officer who sat on their client's CSRT. They also agreed not to release his name without his permission.

The officer is an Army reservist who has also worked as a criminal prosecutor as a civilian. He said he participated in 49 of the CSRT panels and that "training was minimal" and "the process was not well defined."

In his panels, the only witnesses who testified on behalf of detainees were other prisoners at the camp. There was no exculpatory evidence presented separately, as required by the rules, but sometimes it emerged accidentally because contradictory evidence would be presented.

He said there was "acrimony" at a meeting in which commanders discussed why some panels, considering the same evidence, would come to different findings on the Uighurs, members of a Muslim minority in China who want an independent homeland.

The officer said he suggested that inconsistent results were "good for the system ... and would show that the system was working correctly." The admiral in charge, he said, had no response.

Judge Reverses Ruling Barring Lawyers From Detainees

A judge on Friday reversed his own ruling that created new hurdles for some lawyers seeking to visit clients held prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.

District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington reinstated 16 lawsuits challenging the indefinite confinement of about 40 men held at the military prison on a U.S. base in Cuba.

Last month, Urbina dismissed the petitions of habeas corpus - a ruling that prompted the Department of Justice to warn attorneys for detainees that they would be barred from any contact with their clients unless they filed new challenges and agreed to tighter restrictions on visits and letters.

Attorneys for detainees asked the judge to reconsider the ruling and he did, while noting the Justice Department's move to limit access to the prisoners.

"This court expresses no small concern over the Department of Justice precipitously disrupting petitioners' access to their counsel," Urbina wrote.

In his original decision, the judge cited an appellate court ruling that the government argued required him to dismiss the cases because Congress and President George W. Bush stripped detainees of the right to file habeas corpus petitions.

Now, the 16 petitions are on hold - along with challenges filed on behalf of dozens of other Guantanamo detainees - until the Supreme Court rules on whether it is constitutional to deny someone held by the U.S. to file a habeas challenge.

The Associates Press' Ahmed Mohamed and Ben Fox contributed to this report.

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