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Guantanamo prisoner, accused of being a 9/11 planner, held in isolation

Yemeni Ramzi bin al Shibh appears in this courtroom sketch approved for release by a U.S. military security officialm, at his arraignment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on May 5, 2012. He appeared as an accused 9/11 co-conspirator. (Janet Hamlin/Miami Herald/TNS)

Ramzi bin al Shibh, the alleged deputy plotter of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, is being held in an isolation cell with only a prayer rug and Quran — no bed, no running water, and access to legal material for only an hour a day — as punishment for protesting conditions in his Guantanamo confinement, his attorney said Saturday.

Bin al Shibh, 45, has for years claimed that somebody is causing his cell to vibrate and making noises in a campaign of sleep deprivation reminiscent of his 2002-2006 abuse in CIA custody. Prosecutors dismiss the complaint as untrue. A U.S. military doctor at one point treated him as delusional.

“He’s in really, really bad shape,” the Yemeni captive’s capital defense attorney Jim Harrington said, adding that he’s been on a water-only hunger strike since he was moved into a disciplinary cell April 12 at Camp 7, the housing for former CIA black site prisoners at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“They’ve really, really made it much worse, much more akin to what he was subjected to in the black sites,” Harrington said. “He’s clearly being re-traumatized right now.”

Bin al Shibh allegedly aspired to become one of the suicide hijackers. But U.S. diplomats in Germany four times denied him a U.S. visa. So he is instead accused of helping al-Qaida operations chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed organize the attacks that killed 2,976 people in New York, at the Pentagon and on an airplane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.

Bin al Shibh told his attorneys in recent meetings that, as part of his punishment, he has no bed, no mattress, and only gets one hour a day of access to a single legal bin of materials.

Guards have also restricted his access to his legal mail, Harrington said, meaning he gets material from his lawyers for just one hour a day and must return it, with any response within that hour.

Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos, the prison spokeswoman, did not respond to questions about the situation on Saturday morning. Leanos has never commented on individual captive cases nor has she answered questions about conditions at Camp 7, the most clandestine lockup at Guantanamo. In general, the prison has a disciplinary matrix for bad behavior, with guards taking away so-called comfort items based upon the seriousness of an infraction.

But Harrington said some of the punishment violates the trial judge’s orders governing access to legal materials, and is likely to come up at the next pretrial hearing at Guantanamo from April 30 to May 4. In past hearings, Bin al Shibh has been so disruptive that a judge, Army Col. James Pohl, ejected him from court four times in two days.

Bin al Shibh told his legal team that he is apparently being punished for shouting at his guards, scratching the lens of his cell’s monitoring camera, and for putting stones in his toilet to cause another captive’s toilet to overflow.

Camp 7 is a two-tier, two-block prison of 28 cells with a command center that tracks prisoners’ movements by cameras and communicates with them through an intercom system, according to court testimony and documents obtained by the Miami Herald.

Now, if Bin al Shibh wants to wash or flush a toilet he has to ask that running water be restored.

Guards have also threatened that if Bin al Shibh continues to misbehave he’ll be confined to a padded cell. Harrington said the guards did not tell the Yemeni this directly, but instead notified his block leader, an uncharged captive known as Abu Zubaydah, who passed the word.

Bin al Shibh, Mohammed and three other defendants could face the death penalty if they are convicted at trial, for which no start date has been set.

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© 2018 Miami Herald

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