9/11 Defendant Claims Ongoing Injuries From CIA Torture

02/12/2015 02:37 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015

The one refreshing thing about the hearings in the 9/11 military commission case at Guantanamo this week is that defense lawyers are now allowed to say the word "torture" without the censor blacking out the audio feed. And the word "torture" came up a lot.

First thing Thursday morning, several defense lawyers objected to continuing the proceedings at all before the court decides the impact of the government's appointing a translator for a defense team whom two defendants recognized from the time they were tortured in a secret CIA "black site." That was the surprise start to this week of pre-trial hearings in the 9/11 case, arising first thing Monday morning and putting a serious damper on the judge's hopes for making substantive progress. Much of the case has already been stalled since last April, when defense lawyers discovered the FBI had tried to turn a defense team member into an informant. Although prosecutors filed this case in this version of the military commissions in 2011, almost 10 years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the case is still nowhere near going to trial.

Colonel James Pohl overruled the defense objections and decided he could still consider claims by defendant Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi, the alleged financier of the September 11 attacks, that he needs emergency medical treatment. Those claims were filed in December.

Walter Ruiz, Hawsawi's lawyer and a former Navy Lieutenant Commander, told the court that Hawsawi's treatment needs stem from injuries he sustained under U.S.-sponsored torture. Ruiz wants to interview his client's doctors to learn more about the "ongoing bleeding" and "colorectal issues that stem from his time in captivity as we've seen in the Senate Intelligence Report," he said. Ruiz made a point of noting that the recently released torture report documents that Hawsawi was subjected to "excessive rough rectal examinations, procedures used without medical necessity" and from which he says he suffers ongoing medical problems that require him to sit on a pillow when he attends commission proceedings. These problems are "getting serious," said Ruiz.

Prosecutor Ed Ryan disputed Ruiz's characterization of Hawsawi's injuries, saying they arose out of an "incident" on December 7 that Hawsawi caused himself "by refusing a lawful order from those guarding him to return to his cell." Ryan added that "the accused initiated the force that ultimately led to the medical issue" by pushing the guards, then "dropping to the floor" and "kicking and thrashing." Ryan said Hawsawi at the time "steadfastly refused" medical treatment. "It was only after some point that the accused met with counsel that this became a medical issue," said Ryan. "Then it was styled as an emergency motion for appropriate medical intervention."

Ruiz vehemently denied Ryan's account: "Mr. Ryan doesn't say he was taken down while shackled by at least eight members of the guard force," said Ruiz, adding that his client now weighs barely 100 pounds. Ruiz said he's been asking to speak to Hawsawi's doctors since last March, and his requests have been repeatedly denied.

The event in December, said Ruiz, "exacerbated longstanding medical conditions that began somewhere between 2003 and 2006," when he was in CIA custody. Citing the Senate report on CIA torture again, he added, "There were excessive rectal examinations -- some would call that sodomy -- without appropriate medical need. And those caused medical issues that have yet to be resolved. "

Ruiz also argued that conditions in Guantanamo's Camp 7, where high-value detainees are held, don't meet the standards of the Geneva Conventions. A prosecutor responded that although the government concedes the Geneva Conventions apply to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, they're not enforceable in the military commissions.

After hearing lengthy arguments on both sides, as is often the case, Judge Pohl did not rule on either matter. Instead, he adjourned the commission until April.