U.S. News

Guantanamo prisoner cites 2-week sleep deprivation

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - An Afghan prisoner subjected to 14 consecutive days of sleep deprivation at Guantanamo interrupted his war crimes hearing on Thursday to ask why a Harvard sleep expert was needed to testify about the effects of such treatment.

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

“They should give me time to talk about my sleeplessness,” defendant Mohammed Jawad said through a Pashto interpreter.

He got his wish -- in a hearing following last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the 270 Guantanamo prisoners have the right to contest their detention in the U.S. federal courts -- and was sworn in to testify about his treatment in the prison camp’s “frequent flyer” program in May 2004.

“Day and night they were shifting me from one place to another place,” Jawad said. “Nobody answered why they are giving me this punishment.”

Jawad is accused in the Guantanamo tribunal with 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. His military lawyer, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, asked that the charges be dropped on grounds that Jawad was subjected to banned treatment that violated U.S. law and Defense Department policy.

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.

Detention logs indicate Jawad was not interrogated during that time nor for three months afterward, so the treatment may have been done “intentionally to inflict suffering,” Frakt wrote.

He 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 Guantanamo explicitly banned the “frequent flyer” program.

At Frakt’s request, Dr. Janet Mullington, a Harvard Medical School sleep researcher, testified by video link from the Boston area that sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on humans. The link-up was plagued by long echoes that lent a surreal aura to the testimony.

The prosecutor noted that after the cell-swapping treatment ended, Jawad was quoted in a Guantanamo medical report as saying he had no “psych problems.”

Prosecutors argued in written documents that there is no evidence Jawad was tortured and that even if he was, the remedy is not to dismiss the charges but to exclude any evidence obtained as a result.

Jawad, now 23 and sporting a short, dark beard, is charged with attempted murder and causing great bodily harm. He was 16 or 17 when Afghan police arrested him and turned him over to U.S. forces.

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 for him.

Khadr, who was 15 when captured, is charged with murdering U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer with a grenade during a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002.

Military defense lawyers have alleged both Khadr and Jawad were abused at Guantanamo and have repeatedly complained that the government has refused to turn over evidence they need to prepare their cases.

Editing by Tom Brown and David Wiessler