The Guantanamo hearings ground to a halt today. Again. The prosecution asked for a mental competency exam for Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the five men accused of planning the 9/11 attacks, and the judge granted it. Months could pass before that competency exam is completed; everything at Guantanamo Bay moves at the speed of molasses. And any medical exam will inevitably bump up against the issue of torture, and the classification of virtually everything connected to it. Torture dominates the proceedings at Guantanamo, even when it’s not being discussed openly.
Bin al-Shibh’s frequent outbursts were indeed disrupting the commission proceedings. He has taken every opportunity this week to spontaneously fling epithets at the judge (“you have no power”), the commander of his prison (“a war criminal”), and the process generally, prompting his immediate removal from the courtroom each time. Yesterday he shouted, “This is my life. This is torture. TOR. TURE.”
Bin al-Shibh has been complaining of noises and reverberations in his cell in Camp 7, which is so secret that its very existence was only recently confirmed. Presumably Pentagon doctors will need to visit the cell, and for that they’ll have to have the highest security clearances. Will those doctors then have access to the full CIA medical record of bin al-Shibh? His lawyers don’t; they don’t even have access to his full militarymedical record. But it will be hard to make a valid assessment without that important data.
Like the other four detainees, bin al-Shibh was held incommunicado in a secret CIA prison, and almost certainly tortured. He might well be suffering some serious after-effects of that treatment, not to mention his seven years of confinement at Guantanamo Bay. But almost everything the detainees experienced in detention is now classified. Up until Tuesday, even the detainees own “observations and experiences” about their time in the CIA program had been considered classified– though how this will affect the case is still unclear. The judge doesn’t talk about torture; he prefers the term “EITs,” or “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” using the US government euphemism for torture.
And the prosecution, of course, doesn’t use the “t” word at all. But torture will continue to insert itself into the proceedings at Guantanamo, one way or another. Bin al-Shibh’s medical exam may be just one more opportunity for the government to try to hide from its poisonous legacy, and the defense to try to bring it out.