Guantanamo detainee is alleging he was brutalized. Suit to seek data about 6 Algerians
WASHINGTON -- A Guantanamo Bay detainee said a beating by guards at the US military prison left his face partially paralyzed and one of his fingers broken, according to a lawsuit to be filed today in federal court in Boston.
The complaint will ask a judge to order the military to hand over documents about its treatment of six Guantanamo detainees arrested in Bosnia, including medical and psychiatric records. It is the first Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in connection with detention challenges, marking a new tactic in piercing the veil of secrecy that surrounds ''enemy combatants" at the prison.
''We've been asking for this information since September," said attorney Stephen Oleskey, a former Massachusetts deputy attorney general. ''It bears on their conditions of confinement and their mental and physical well-being. The government has made no effort to give it to us despite the fact that federal law requires it be promptly provided, and thus we have no alternative but to go to court."
The complaint centers on Mustafa Ait Idir, an Algerian who was arrested in Bosnia in October 2001. Idir was interviewed in February of this year during a trip to Guantanamo by two Boston attorneys, Oleskey and Rob Kirsch, who took on the case of six Algerians suspected of conspiring to blow up the US embassy in Sarajevo. The United States brought the six to Guantanamo after Bosnian courts dismissed charges against them for lack of evidence.
According to a draft of the complaint obtained by the Globe, Idir alleges he faced torture at Guantanamo: Guards once held his face under water in his cell's hole-in-floor toilet and flooded his mouth with a hose, making him feel like he was drowning. He was handcuffed at the time, he said.
Another time, the complaint said, guards harassed prisoners on religious grounds by forcing them to give up their pants so they could not pray according to Muslim custom, which requires that worshipers be fully covered. Idir refused to disrobe and struggled with guards, who tear-gassed him. Eventually he was put in handcuffs, after which a guard bent his finger until it broke.
On a third occasion, the complaint said, guards twisted his right hand while he was handcuffed, dislocating the middle finger and thumb. They also pinned him down on gravel and jumped on his head, causing stones to cut the right side of his face and leaving a scar near his eye.
''This incident precipitated an apparent stroke," the complaint alleged. ''He experiences head pain, and the left side of his face was paralyzed for months. Only one of his eyes blinked . . . He could not eat normally, food and drink leaked from his non-functioning mouth."
A Defense Department spokesman declined to comment on specifics of the case, but noted that Al Qaeda ''emphasizes the tactic of making false abuse allegations" if captured.
''US policy condemns and prohibits torture," the spokesman said. ''US personnel are required to follow this policy and applicable law. Credible allegations of illegal conduct by US personnel are taken seriously and investigated."
According to Kirsch, Idir is a computer technician, family man, and athlete who had been on both the Algerian and Bosnian national karate teams.
''Even if you assume that [Idir's karate expertise] would justify [guards] being cautious, in the two instances in which his fingers were broken and dislocated, by the time that happened he was entirely subdued and his hands were manacled," the lawyer said.
The cases of the six Algerians have attracted attention because the men were detained far from the Afghanistan-Pakistan war zone, where the vast majority of Guantanamo prisoners were captured.
Oleskey said his clients had been working for Middle East-based charities in Bosnia for at least six years at the time of their arrest. All are married and have children. Their ages range from late 30s to early 40s.
Idir's case was cited in January by US District Judge Joyce Hens Green, who ruled that the military had failed to give detainees a proper chance to challenge their imprisonment.
From a transcript of a military hearing held for Idir, Green quoted an exchange in which Idir denied that he planned to attack the embassy or knew an Al Qaeda member. He asked to know the name of the alleged terrorist so he could further defend himself. But the tribunal was unable to provide it.
''I was hoping you had evidence you could give me," Idir said. ''If I was in your place -- and I apologize in advance for these words -- but if a supervisor came to me and showed me accusations like these, I would take these accusations and I would hit him in the face with them. Sorry about that."
Everyone in the room laughed. Green was less amused: ''The laughter reflected in the transcript is understandable, and this exchange might have been truly humorous had the consequences of the detainee's 'enemy combatant' status not been so terribly serious and had the detainee's criticism not been so piercingly accurate," she wrote.Another federal judge, Richard Leon, came to the opposite conclusion, holding that the military did give detainees a fair chance to prove their innocence. The matter is now before an appeals court.