In Guantánamo case, a judge tightens the screws on the US
He is insisting that the government disclose any evidence that points to a detainee's innocence in a 'dirty bomb' plot.
A major battle is brewing in federal court here over the well-established legal requirement that the government must turn over any exculpatory evidence it has uncovered to an accused criminal it is seeking to imprison.Skip to next paragraph
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But what if that person is a suspected terrorist being held as an enemy combatant at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba?
That's the issue before US District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is presiding over a high-stakes legal dispute involving allegations that US intelligence agents secretly sent a man to Morocco for 18 months of torture before transferring him to prisons in Afghanistan and then Guantánamo.
Judge Sullivan has ordered the government to turn over exculpatory evidence about the man, but Justice Department lawyers are seeking to narrow the judge's order.
The issue arises in the case of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born former British resident accused of plotting with American citizen Jose Padilla to detonate a radiological "dirty bomb" in the US. Mr. Mohamed has been held at Guantánamo for four years and has filed a habeas corpus petition challenging the legality of his continued military detention.
He is being held as an enemy combatant on the basis of what government lawyers say are his admissions to interrogators that he attended Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and was involved in a dirty-bomb plot.
Mohamed's lawyers say many of the alleged admissions were coerced and are false. They argue in their habeas petition that because the government is relying on alleged confessions by their client, they must be afforded an opportunity to examine the conditions and circumstances that led to Mohamed's statements.
They present a Manchurian candidate argument, that Mohamed was tortured for two years – from May 2002 to May 2004 – to condition him to later confess to his involvement in terrorism. He was subjected to repetitive abuse until he replied to the interrogators' questions with the answers US officials desired, Mohamed's lawyers charge.
The US government, they add, wanted to use Mohamed as a witness against top Al Qaeda leader Khaled Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind. In reality, the lawyers say, Mohamed was a "nobody" who was swept up and then chewed up in America's post-9/11 dragnet.
US behavior is backdrop
Mohamed's case is closely watched because it involves allegations of US-sanctioned torture and the potential use of coerced statements as evidence against longtime Guantánamo detainees. It is one of more than 200 habeas challenges now pending in federal court in Washington on behalf of detainees at the Guantánamo terrorism prison camp. His case has already triggered an investigation by British authorities into possible wrongdoing by that nation's intelligence agents, who allegedly cooperated with US authorities in the Mohamed affair.