GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A young Guantanamo prisoner's confession to Afghan police was obtained through torture and cannot be used as evidence in his trial on charges of wounding U.S. soldiers with a grenade, a judge in the U.S. war crimes court ruled on Tuesday.
High-ranking Afghan government officials threatened to kill Mohammed Jawad and his family unless he admitted throwing the grenade that wounded the soldiers and their Afghan interpreter at a bazaar in Kabul in December 2002, the judge found.
Jawad was 16 or 17 at the time and appeared to have been drugged, said the judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley. The Afghan officials who interrogated Jawad at the Kabul police station were armed and the death threat was credible, he ruled.
Jawad was turned over to U.S. forces after confessing and, two months later, was sent to the detention center at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The judge ruled that extracting a confession under threat of death met the definition of torture under the Guantanamo trial rules -- an "act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain and suffering."
Trial rules allow the use of evidence obtained via coercion but not torture and leave it up to the individual judges to determine which is which.
"While the torture threshold is admittedly high, it is met in this case," Henley said in his ruling.
The ruling casts further doubt on the wobbly case against Jawad, who is scheduled for trial at Guantanamo on January 5.
The military prosecutor in the case quit last month, alleging the U.S. government was suppressing evidence that cast doubt on Jawad's guilt. And a U.S. general who supervised the prosecutors was reassigned after fellow officers accused him of pushing for charges in the Jawad case prematurely because he felt it would excite the interest of U.S. citizens.
Jawad's military lawyer, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, said the suppressed evidence indicated Jawad was drugged by Afghans who recruited him for a purported mine-clearing operation and that he was one of three people who confessed to throwing the same grenade.
At a hearing in August, he presented testimony that Jawad was beaten and chained to the wall while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan then subjected to extreme isolation and sleep deprivation at Guantanamo even after the sleep deprivation program was ordered halted.
About 255 suspected members of al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated groups are now detained at Guantanamo. A total of more than 750 foreigners have been held without trial at the base in the seven years since President George W. Bush began a war against terrorism.
The two candidates for the U.S. presidential election on November 4 -- Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain -- have said they will close the Guantanamo prison, which is widely seen as a stain on the reputation of the United States.
Edited by Jim Loney and John O'Callaghan