Defense in Sept. 11 Case Seeks 'Black Site' Access

Lawyers for an alleged Sept. 11
plotter held at Guantanamo want to inspect secret CIA overseas
prisons, saying in court papers Monday the conditions in the
so-called black sites may yield insight into a mental disorder that
has raised questions about whether he is competent to stand trial.

The lawyers for Ramzi Binalshibh, one of five Guantanamo
prisoners facing a possible death sentence for allegedly taking
part in the 2001 terror attack on the U.S., also seek to see "any
instruments that may have been employed" to restrain or coerce him
in the four years before he was taken to the U.S. Navy base in
Cuba.

Attorneys for a former Guantanamo detainee facing trial in New
York on terrorism charges made a similar request last week to
examine the clandestine jails.

Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, a military lawyer appointed to
represent Binalshibh, said the defense needs to assess the
conditions of his previous confinement if the U.S. decides to
resume his war crimes trial.

"It is essential to assess his current mental competency,"
Lachelier told The Associated Press.

Neither his lawyers nor the prosecution have disclosed
Binalshibh's exact illness, but Department of Defense doctors have
diagnosed him with a "psychiatric disorder" and he has been
treated with a drug for schizophrenia, according to court papers.

His trial has been on hold since January, when President Barack
Obama requested a suspension of all war crimes proceedings at
Guantanamo until his administration could review the system of
prosecuting terrorism suspects created by his predecessor and
Congress.

The review is expected to be finished July 21, but the military
has scheduled a series of hearings at Guantanamo next week to deal
with pretrial legal issues, including the request to visit the
black sites. A judge is expected to rule later on the larger
question of whether Binalshibh is competent to stand trial.

Prosecutors oppose the request to visit the now-shuttered secret
prisons, but a spokesman for the Office of Military Commissions
said he could not provide a copy of their court filing because the
court had not yet cleared it for release. Lachelier said
prosecutors contend past conditions are irrelevant.

On Thursday in New York, a federal prosecutor agreed not to
dismantle overseas sites where a former Guantanamo prisoner, Ahmed
Ghailani, claims he was interrogated by the CIA. His lawyers said
they needed to inspect the sites to gather evidence of harsh
conditions and interrogation techniques. The prosecutor said the
government didn't plan to use any evidence gathered at the secret
prisons, whose location has never been publicly revealed.

Binalshibh's request is different in that his lawyers argue the
conditions at the secret jails might have been so horrific that
they could have contributed to, or perhaps even caused, his mental
problems.

In November, a judge granted Binalshibh's lawyers access for the
first time to "Camp 7" and "Camp Platinum," the secret section
of Guantanamo where he is held, to evaluate his conditions. The
lawyers said in court documents that he was so unstable that he
believes his bed shakes and noxious odors are pumped into his cell.

"Mental status does not arise from a vacuum: present and past
experiences affect one's perceptions, understandings and general
mental competency," his lawyers wrote in seeking access to the
overseas prisons.

The case against Binalshibh includes conspiracy and murder
charges for purportedly helping find flight schools for the Sept.
11 hijackers, and allegedly providing other assistance. He
allegedly was selected to be a hijacker and made a "martyr video"
in preparation for the operation, but was unable to get a U.S.
visa.

Binalshibh, who has said he wants to serve as his own attorney
and plead guilty, said at a January hearing that he was proud of
his role in the Sept. 11 attack.


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