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Torture complaints ignored at Guantanamo Bay, attorney says

Ammar al Baluchi, also known as Ali Abd al Aziz Ali, appears at his arraignment as an accused 9/11 co-conspirator in this courtroom sketch r
Ammar al Baluchi, also known as Ali Abd al Aziz Ali, appears at his arraignment as an accused 9/11 co-conspirator in this courtroom sketch r

By Tom Ramstack

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - A man accused of aiding the September 11 attacks suffered a serious head injury while imprisoned by the CIA, his attorney told a war crimes tribunal on Wednesday, raising questions about whether the United States violated international law against torture.

The evidence was presented during the second day of a pre-trial hearing at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba for five of the U.S. military's most "high value" detainees.

Ammar al-Baluchi suffers ongoing health problems from what he and the other defendants say was torture while he was being held in CIA custody between 2003 and 2006, according to his attorney, James Connell. His symptoms include memory loss and delusions.

Connell mentioned al-Baluchi's injury to illustrate that the defendants have no meaningful recourse for addressing their abuse complaints, despite an international treaty that prohibits torture and requires the United States to give victims a right of redress.

"Instead, nothing happened," Connell said at the hearing, which was monitored by Reuters via a closed-circuit broadcast at the Fort Meade, Maryland, army base. He presented a medical record and named a doctor who could testify to the injury.

Justice Department attorneys said during the hearing the detainees have "robust" avenues for having their allegations of torture addressed, such as lawsuits in U.S. federal courts.

The pre-trial hearing is intended to help the military judge decide the rules of evidence that will be followed during the trial, which is expected sometime next year.

Much of the hearing so far has touched on the extent that evidence of torture by U.S. military captors will be allowed to influence the court's verdict.

The defendants claim the military court that is hearing their case violates the 1984 United Nations Convention against Torture by forbidding them from presenting torture evidence.

Their attorneys say violation of the treaty should be a reason for dismissing the charges against their clients.

The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, issued a "protective order" last January that prohibits public disclosure of some statements by the defendants, including evidence they were tortured. He said public statements by the defendants could disclose classified information representing a threat to U.S. national security.

The defendants claim their mistreatment included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures, stress positions and a technique that simulates drowning called waterboarding.

The five are accused of participating in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the hijacked plane attacks that destroyed New York's World Trade Center and severely damaged the Pentagon.

They are charged with terrorism, hijacking and nearly 3,000 counts of murder arising from the attack. They could be sentenced to death.

Officials from the administration of former President George W. Bush authorized the CIA to use what they called "enhanced interrogation techniques" on the Guantanamo prisoners. President Barack Obama changed the policy shortly after taking office. He referred to the techniques as torture.

Justice Department attorney Clay Trivett said any alleged torture was prompted by the emergency of war and should not influence whether the defendants are guilty.

"We were in a situation where we were at war and we needed intelligence," Trivett said.

(Editing by David Adams and Lisa Shumaker)

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