Judge urged to drop Guantanamo charge

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba Fri Jun 20, 2008 12:52am EDT

Omar Khadr is seen in this undated family portrait. REUTERS/Handout

Omar Khadr is seen in this undated family portrait.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

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GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A military defense lawyer urged a Guantanamo judge to help restore America's reputation by dropping attempted murder charges against an Afghan prisoner who was subjected to 14 consecutive days of sleep deprivation.

"You have an opportunity to restore just a bit of America's lost luster," Air Force Maj. David Frakt told the judge presiding in the war crimes case against Afghan prisoner Mohammed Jawad.

Jawad is accused in the Guantanamo tribunal of throwing a grenade into a U.S. military jeep at a bazaar in Kabul in December 2002, injuring two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter.

Jawad, now 23 and bearded, was 16 or 17 when Afghan police arrested him and turned him over to U.S. forces. They brought him to the detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, where he was subjected to what was known as the "frequent flyer program."

Over 14 days in May 2004 he was shackled and moved from one cell to another 112 times -- on average every two hours and 50 minutes but with more frequent moves at night "to ensure maximum disruption of sleep," Frakt said in legal documents.

"Day and night they were shifting me from one place to another place," Jawad testified through a Pashto interpreter. "Nobody answered why they are giving me this punishment."

Detention logs indicate Jawad was not interrogated during that time nor for three months afterward. But a former Guantanamo intelligence chief said the program had also been used for disciplinary purposes.

Frakt said the treatment began five months after Jawad tried to hang himself in his cell, and two months after the military commander in charge of the prison camp explicitly banned the "frequent flyer" program.

"ATMOSPHERE OF LAWLESSNESS"

Capping a daylong hearing that lasted well into the night, Frakt said President George W. Bush and his administration had created a "pervasive atmosphere of lawlessness" at Guantanamo that led to barbarism, cruelty and "pointless and sadistic treatment of ... a suicidal teenager."

Prosecutors argued it was not torture and noted that after the cell-swapping treatment ended, Jawad was quoted in a medical report as saying he had no "psych problems."

One prosecutor, Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, said dismissing the charges would deny justice to three victims who "had their lives and their bodies torn apart by an attack" that they will prove was carried out by Jawad.

He said nothing in the 2006 law that created the Guantanamo court authorized the judge to dismiss the charges. That law, he said "has never been overturned except in a small part." The reference was to last week's Supreme Court ruling that the 270 Guantanamo prisoners have the right to challenge their detention in a U.S. federal court.

The hearing marked the first time the controversial Guantanamo court was convened since the Supreme Court ruling.

Frakt also argued that prosecutors rushed to charge Jawad without investigating his age or treatment because a higher-ranking officer pressed them to bring charges that would capture the interest of the American public.

He said that officer, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, was appointed to provide impartial legal advice to the Pentagon official overseeing the trials but instead bullied the prosecutors and "gave people ass-chewings on a regular basis."

Hartmann testified he was "intense and direct" in his treatment of prosecutors but exerted no illegal influence.

The judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley did not indicate when he would rule on defense requests to drop the charges and ban Hartmann from further involvement.

Jawad is one of two Guantanamo detainees captured as juveniles and charged with crimes that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. The other, 21-year-old Canadian Omar Khadr, appeared in another courtroom at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo on Thursday and the judge set an October 8 trial date.

Khadr, who was 15 when captured, is charged with murdering U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Speer during a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002.

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

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