Un­usual ac­com­mo­da­tion at Gitmo war court: a hospi­tal bed for an al-Qaida sus­pect

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Nation - BY CAROL ROSEN­BERG crosen­berg@mi­ami­her­ald.com


Mil­i­tary judges have made cer­tain ac­com­mo­da­tions to ac­cused war crim­i­nals here. But Fri­day, for the first time, the mil­i­tary placed a hospi­tal bed in­side the court.

Troops moved the stan­dard style hospi­tal bed from the prison to the war court at Camp Jus­tice. Then they brought an al­leged al-Qaida war crim­i­nal to court in an am­bu­lance for a brief pre­trial hear­ing, which strad­dled a two-hour re­cess to let the Iraqi cap­tive sleep off painkillers.

Abd al Hadi al Iraqi un­der­went five spine surg­eries in eight months at Guan­tá­namo, start­ing in Septem­ber 2017, and has rarely made it to court since. A new judge in the case, Marine Lt. Col. Michael Li­bretto, at­tempted to hold a hear­ing on Tues­day but had to re­cess af­ter just 30 min­utes when the cap­tive suf­fered back spasms that im­paired his breath­ing. He was was med­i­cated with mul­ti­ple opi­ates and then taken to the prison acute care unit.

On Fri­day, Li­bretto got through the ba­sics of a new-judge hear­ing: Let­ting de­fense lawyers ques­tion him on his back­ground to probe for pos­si­ble bias be­fore the judge, based in Par­ris Is­land, S.C., de­clared him­self con­flict-free and ca­pa­ble of pre­sid­ing in the case.

First, how­ever, he asked Hadi how he was do­ing. “I feel like my head is go­ing to ex­plode, my en­tire body is strained and stretched,” the 57-year-old cap­tive replied about 10 min­utes into the hear­ing from a cush­ioned re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion chair. Be­fore it started he was up­right in the hospi­tal bed, wear­ing a white prison uni­form, skull­cap and hospi­tal socks but moved to the chair for the pro­ceed­ing. Then, at Minute 18, de­fense lawyers de­clared a spasm was start­ing and the judge re­cessed.

Hadi used a walker to get back to the hospi­tal bed, a few steps away, and lay down.

A Navy Corps­man who was watch­ing from the cur­tained-off vic­tims sec­tion of the spec­ta­tors’ gallery

grabbed his field kit, and went in­side. An Army ma­jor whose spe­cialty is psy­chi­a­try was also on hand as treat­ing physi­cian. The court was re­cessed for more than two and half hours, dur­ing which U.S. troops ush­ered out ob­servers to dim the lights and let Hadi sleep off the opi­ates — a Per­coset be­fore court and a Val­ium at the re­cess.

The war crimes hear­ings have gone on for more than a decade, and judges have made cer­tain ac­com­mo­da­tions to the cap­tives’ needs. The al­leged 9/11 plot­ters, for ex­am­ple, un­furl their rugs, kneel and pray in­side the court­room dur­ing prayer time re­cesses. A cap­tive who suf­fered rec­tal dam­age dur­ing CIA de­ten­tion sits on a pil­low. Some of the ac­cused ter­ror­ists done para­mil­i­tary at­tire for their hear­ings. But never be­fore has a hospi­tal bed been brought in­side court.

At one point the judge read from a re­cent med­i­cal opin­ion that said Hadi “healed ap­pro­pri­ately” from his five surg­eries, the hard­ware U.S. sur­geons put in his spine were fixed and sta­ble — and back spasms are not un­usual. Given his

age and his­tory, ac­cord­ing to the judge’s read­ing of the opin­ion, “the ac­cused may never im­prove beyond the cur­rent con­di­tion.”

Le­gal arguments were on the docket, mostly fo­cused on con­sti­tu­tional is­sues. But Li­bretto said, based on Hadi’s health con­di­tion, he lim­ited the hear­ing to staffing is­sues. A new de­fense lawyer, Su­san Hensler, was sworn in. Three ab­sent de­fense at­tor­neys were ex­cused. And Li­bretto de­clined to re­lease three oth­ers, await­ing more de­tails on why they were leav­ing or who was com­ing to re­place them.

Hadi, who says his true name is Nash­wan al Tamir, is ac­cused of di­rect­ing and pay­ing in­sur­gents to carry out at­tacks on U.S. and al­lied troops and civil­ians in the post 9/11 in­va­sion of Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden and dis­man­tle the Tal­iban. Hadi was cap­tured a decade ago, in Turkey, and in April 2007 was brought to Guan­tá­namo’s clan­des­tine Camp 7 prison for for­mer CIA cap­tives. He was charged at the war court in June 2014, and could face a life sen­tence if he’s con­victed.

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