Guant�namo drives prisoners insane, lawyers say
Next month, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was once a driver for, could become the first detainee to be tried for war crimes in Guant�namo Bay, . By now, he should be busily working on his defense.
But his lawyers say he cannot. They say Hamdan, already the subject of aruling, has essentially been driven insane by solitary confinement in a tiny cell where he spends at least 22 hours a day, goes to the bathroom and eats all his meals. His defense team says he is suicidal, hears voices, has flashbacks, talks to himself and says the restrictions of Guant�namo "boil his mind."
"He will shout at us," said his military defense lawyer, Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer. "He will bang his fists on the table."
His lawyers have asked a military judge to stop his case until Hamdan is placed in less restrictive conditions at Guant�namo, saying he cannot get a fair trial if he cannot focus on defending himself. The judge is to hear arguments as soon as Monday on whether he has the power to consider the claim.
Critics have long asserted that Guant�namo's climate-controlled isolation is a breeding ground for insanity. But turning that into a legal claim marks a new stage for the military commissions at Guant�namo. As military prosecutors push to get trials under way, they are being met with challenges not just to the charges, but to Guant�namo itself.
Conditions are more isolating than many death rows and maximum-security prisons in the United States, said Jules Lobel, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who is an expert on U.S. prison conditions.
Pentagon officials say that Guant�namo holds dangerous men humanely and that there is no unusual quantity of mental illness there. Guant�namo, a military spokeswoman said, does not have solitary confinement, only "single-occupancy cells."
In response to questions, Commander Pauline Storum, the spokeswoman for Guant�namo, asserted that detainees were much healthier psychologically than the population in U.S. prisons. Storum said about 10 percent could be found mentally ill, compared, she said, with data showing that more than half of inmates in U.S. correctional institutions had mental health problems.
With their filings, Hamdan's lawyers are setting the stage for similar challenges to the procedures of Guant�namo in some 80 expected war crimes cases, lawyers for other detainees say. "The issue of mistreatment of prisoners, the miserable lives they live in these cells, will come up in every case," said Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer for 35 detainees.
The case of Salim Hamdan is already a landmark because the Supreme Court used an earlier case against him to strike down the Bush administration' s first military commission system in 2006. But that case, like most of the legal battles over Guant�namo, did not affect conditions there.
Lawyers for detainees argue that the effects of intense isolation have gradually turned the prison camp into something of a highly fortified mental ward. Hamdan's lawyers say his place as one of the best-known detainees has not spared him.
In more than six years of detention, Hamdan has had two phone calls to his family and no visits. He has been disciplined, legal filings say, for having a Snickers bar that was given to him by his lawyers and for possessing too many socks.
"Conditions are asphalt, excrement and worse," he wrote his lawyers in February. "Why, why, why?"
At Guant�namo, there are no family visits, no televisions and no radios. A new policy will for the first time permit one telephone call a year.
In the cells where Hamdan and more than 200 of Guant�namo's 280 detainees are now held, communication with other detainees is generally by shouting through the slit in the door used for the delivery of meals. Mail is late and often censored, lawyers say.
Source: Internation Herald Tribune (IHT)
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