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Lawyers go to court for Guantanamo detainee, saying he is being mistreated

The Associated Press
September 19, 2006

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba A Saudi detainee has been held in solitary confinement for a year at the Guantanamo Bay prison, his lawyers said in a motion filed Monday, claiming the detainee is now so mentally unbalanced he considers insects his friends.

Shaker Aamer, a 37-year-old resident of Britain, was placed in isolation on Sept. 24, 2005, and has been beaten by guards, deprived of sleep and subjected to temperature extremes, according to the motion filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The motion asks the court to order Aamer's immediate release from solitary confinement.

However, Aamer has said he had contact with fellow prisoners as recently as the beginning of June, one of his lawyers, Zachary Katznelson, said in a declaration to the court in Washington. Neither lawyer could immediately be contacted to elaborate.

Keeping Aamer isolated violates Geneva Conventions protections, Aamer's lawyers argued.

The U.S. military denied he is being mistreated.

The allegations surfaced as President George W. Bush and Congress wrestle over legislation to set rules for interrogating and trying terror suspects. Bush officials argue they need to establish ground rules so suspects can be interrogated to prevent horrors like the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Mr. Aamer has been held in complete isolation for the past 360 days," Aamer's lawyers said in the motion, adding that except for infrequent meetings with his attorneys, he has had consistent contact only with the Americans running the prison on this U.S. Navy base in southeastern Cuba.

"His only consistent contact with living beings beside his captors is with the ants in his cell. He feeds them and considers them his friends," Katznelson said in his statement to the court.

"There is no question in my mind that he is mentally unstable," he added.

The motion, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press, said Aamer lives in a 6-by-8-foot (2-by-2.5 meter) cell containing a steel bunk, steel toilet, steel sink, a Quran and a thin mattress. The cell is contained entirely within a wooden shack.

Katznelson said that on June 9 — the day before three Guantanamo detainees committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells — military police beat Aamer because he resisted providing a retina scan and fingerprints.

"They choked him," the lawyer said. "They bent his nose repeatedly so hard to the side he thought it would break. ... They gouged his eyes. They held his eyes open and shined a mag-lite in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat. They bent his fingers until he screamed. When he screamed, they cut off his airway, then put a mask on him so he could not cry out."

The motion said the treatment of Aamer, who is fluent in English and is known to military guards as "the Professor," violates Article Three of the Geneva Conventions, which states prisoners "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely."

Army Capt. Dan Byer, a Guantanamo spokesman, denied any of the roughly 450 Guantanamo detainees are subjected to such treatment. He said regulations prevent him from speaking about individual detainees, but that detainees are treated in conformance with the Geneva Conventions.

He discounted the allegation that Aamer was kept in solitary confinement.

"No detainee is in a situation where they do not have available human contact 24 hours a day," Byer said, but he declined to discuss whether Aamer has been kept apart from other detainees for a year.

Aamer told his lawyer the air conditioner in his cell is often turned off, leaving him sweltering in the tropical heat, or turned up full blast "so the cell is freezing cold."

Aamer claims he was working for a charity organization when he was captured in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The detainee won a measure of fame at the prison last year when he met with Army Col. Mike Bumgarner, who was then the warden, to end a hunger strike by detainees.

Aamer brought together a six-man prisoners council that attempted to negotiate improved conditions and advocated that detainees be tried or sent home, his lawyers said, but the talks failed and Aamer was put in solitary confinement.

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