Guantanamo lawyers want to photograph scars of waterboarded Sept. 11 'mastermind'

Screen grab from a Defense Department video of an interrogation.


By CAROL ROSENBERG | The Miami Herald | Published: October 25, 2013

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- A U.S. Marine defending alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed asked a military judge Friday to let lawyers photograph scars on the ankles and wrists of the man who U.S. agents waterboarded 183 times.

Marine Maj. Derek Poteet sought a court order to collect the photos as evidence on the same day that he and other Sept. 11 defense lawyers revealed they wrote President Barack Obama seeking declassification of the CIA program that snatched, interrogated and secretly locked up their clients for years in secret “black site” prisons.

Defense lawyers argue that what the CIA did to the men, from 2002-2006, should be made public at the death-penalty tribunal, which the prosecution proposed on Friday should start with selection of a military jury in January 2015.

The current classification restrictions of the so-called Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program “only facilitate further concealment of war crimes committed by agents of our government,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by nine U.S. military and four civilian lawyers, all paid by the Pentagon to defend the five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

The plea to the commander in chief capped four days of pretrial hearings that focused on allegations of torture by the CIA.

And Poteet cast the photography request as a bid to collect proof.

At issue in the photography motion was not if, but who would take the photos “to preserve evidence in this case.”

Prosecutor Jeffrey Groharing argued the photos should be taken by Combat Camera, an elite photography unit of American troops whose website boasts that soldiers they take photos for the Secretary of Defense for use in both “public affairs’ and “information warfare.”

Poteet argued that team members should make the photos and subject them to a security review, while his client, Mohammed, listened nearby attired as a self-styled warrior for Islam. He wore a mostly green camouflage jacket draped with a white headscarf atop a white gown, his beard dyed rusty red.

Cheryl Bormann, defense lawyer for co-defendant Walid bin Attash, similarly asked to have a team member photograph something on her client, a Yemeni man whose lawyers says he was likewise tortured in CIA custody. Bin Attash, who lost a leg before Sept. 11 in a battle in Afghanistan, was sporting a camouflage jacket in desert colors not the Woodland pattern favored by Mohammed.

Prosecutors don’t concede the U.S. tortured the men, who got to Guantánamo in 2006, three and four years after they were captured in Pakistan and held in different secret sites around the world out of reach of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Instead, Groharing argued that given a Defense Department restriction on the dissemination of detainee photos, the special Pentagon unit should photograph and maintain them.

The 9/11 case judge, Army Col. James Pohl, did not rule on the request. But it emerged in court arguments that a day earlier the judge allowed the military and civilian defense lawyers to pose for Combat Camera with their clients.

Defense lawyers said they took the group photos to take abroad and vouch for the attorney-client relationship as they do investigations and preparations for the death-penalty trials of the five men accused of hatching the 9/11 plot or training, funding and making travel arrangements for the 19 terrorist hijackers.

On Jan. 11, 2002, Combat Camera photographers took some of Guantánamo’s most infamous photos — images of the first 20 captives, clad in orange jumpsuits, shackled and on their knees inside a chain-linked-fence enclosure hours after their arrival at this remote base in southeast Cuba.

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