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Guantanamo holds rare war-court session to hear from captive's psychiatrist

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — An Army psychiatrist testified Sunday that Guantanamo doctors, with no government account of what the CIA did to the accused USS Cole bomber, offered the captive a range of treatments for his mental health problems, such as antidepressants and exposure therapy.

The doctor, an Army major who was board-certified in psychiatry in 2012, said the man awaiting a death-penalty trial didn’t agree to any kind of therapy and since participation was essential, it never happened.

Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 49, was held for four years by the CIA and, according to unclassified abuse reports, was interrogated with a waterboard and power drill and subjected to a mock execution. But the doctor testified, anonymously and by video-link from Fort Bliss, Texas, that medical records he consulted provided no CIA detention history on any of his patients.

“I have just assumed that they probably went through some form of hell at some point in their life,” said the doctor, who wore the battle-dress uniform of an Army major and was called Doctor 97 in court.

Last year, a court-appointed U.S. military medical board was authorized to see information about Nashiri’s 2002-06 secret CIA detention and diagnosed him as suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. Last week, an expert on treating torture survivors, who was likewise given top-secret access to learn about Nashiri’s CIA treatment, diagnosed Nashiri as a victim of “ physical, psychological and sexual torture.”

Sunday, Doctor 97 said he didn’t know what happened to Nashiri before Guantanamo beyond “suspicions,” but disagreed with the expert. The doctor recently switched Nashiri’s primary diagnosis to narcissistic personality disorder, finding that more apt than “some stressor that happened years ago.”

“He was not demonstrating symptoms at that time when I was seeing him of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The psychiatrist also said Guantanamo doctors prescribed Nashiri a series of antidepressants and offered him psychotherapy and exposure therapy for an anxiety disorder. The treatment required a commitment to cooperate because he could get worse before he got better.

The doctor described exposure therapy as a patient’s agreeing to be intentionally exposed to things that trigger anxiety, to recalibrate his brain’s fear center, “to become more normalized, so in the future those same triggers will not cause the degree of anxiety or negative response or may not cause any anxiety whatsoever.”

At issue is a defense claim — Nashiri’s lawyers describe it as medical malpractice — that Guantanamo prison’s military doctors have not treated him for the trauma he suffered at the hands of the CIA. His lawyers want the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, to order specialized treatment, and asked Pohl to order training of Guantanamo medical staff treating former CIA prisoners by the torture expert who testified, Dr. Sondra Crosby.

Navy Lt. Bryan Davis, a case prosecutor, told the judge he never should have heard from the doctors in the first place. Nobody argued that Nashiri was not competent to face trial, Davis said, and the judge shouldn’t intrude in the military’s running of Guantanamo prison camp.

Davis also argued that Nashiri got adequate health care.

In one exchange with the psychiatrist the prosecutor asked if Nashiri “received care in accordance with the standard of practice in the clinical guidelines.”

“Absolutely,” the doctor replied.

Nashiri, awaiting a death-penalty trial, is accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s Oct. 12, 2000, suicide bombing of the Cole warship off Yemen. Seventeen American sailors died.

The military judge called the rare Sunday war court session to conclude a week of hearings once the military located the vacationing Army psychiatrist.

The hearings resume after Memorial Day with a prosecution effort to scale back the judge’s order to the government to give defense lawyers some of the CIA’s most guarded secrets about its former black site program — including locations, dates, the identities of medical personnel and cables that discussed how to waterboard and use other “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Nashiri.

The prosecutors wrote in their sealed motion to reconsider, according to Nashiri defense attorney Rick Kammen, that if Pohl, the judge, doesn’t relent, they’ll appeal outside Guantánamo — a development that would probably delay the trial until next year. It’s now scheduled to start in December.

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