Guantánamo’s incommunicado captives may soon video chat with family
November 6, 2014   By:    CIA Black Sites, Ghost   Comments are off   //   680 Views

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GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE – Former CIA captives who were held in a secret prison overseas network after the Sept. 11 attacks will for the first time be able to have video chats with their families, it was disclosed at the war court Thursday.

The men being granted Skype-like calls include some of the most unsympathetic of Guantánamo’s prisoners — the alleged senior plotters of major terror attacks, including the accused 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Details were scant. The chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, called them “near real time interactive discussions.” He credited the change in policy to continuous evaluation in the Obama administration era of the circumstances of confinement in Guantánamo’s most clandestine of prisons, Camp 7 — where six men awaiting death-penalty trials are held.

The timing of the disclosure was fortuitous: It came as lawyers for an alleged terrorist, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, 49, were asking a military judge to compel a video chat between him and his elderly parents, for reasons of mental health.
Related
Accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed poses for the Red Cross in this undated Guantánamo photo. Next, he could get monitored controlled video chats with his family.

Accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed poses for the Red Cross in this undated Guantánamo photo. Next, he could get monitored controlled video chats with his family.
Judge to probe Guantánamo’s no-Skype policy for ex-CIA prisoners

Nashiri is accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s suicide bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed, and dozens more wounded. His lawyers, on medical advice, sought the video visit with his parents to ease his depression and PTSD. U.S. agents waterboarded him and subjected him to mock execution after his disappearance into the dark sites a dozen years ago.

Prosecutors for months opposed the request. They argued that letting him speak to his parents by Skype would pose “significant security risks” to the staff and “facility.”

Then, suddenly, they reversed course in a significant departure of security doctrine surrounding the men who the CIA disappeared into its secret overseas prison network from 2002 to 2006. There they were denied Red Cross visits, access to attorneys, even notice to their families that they were still alive.

The families only found that out in September 2006. President George W. Bush announced that the CIA’s “high-value detainees” who’d been subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” were at Guantánamo. They’ve been allowed to exchange censored letters and prescreened photos since but been denied phone and video calls like the rest of Guantánamo’s 148 prisoners.

The International Red Cross welcomed the announcement, but family members of victims of the USS Cole bombing, frustrated by trial delays, decried it.

Sharon Pelly, whose sailor husband was on the ship and also suffers PTSD, said Nashiri shouldn’t get his call with his elderly parents until the trial opens — possibly late next year.

“He can wait as long as we wait,” she told reporters. She added that the parents of the 17 sailors killed on the USS Cole can never get calls from their kids.

The Red Cross will manage the families’ side of the calls. Family members can’t record or photograph the video chats. The Geneva-based organization won’t put them on the Internet and the public can’t see it, said ICRC spokeswoman Anna Nelson in Washington, D.C.

Such contacts are not “only a legal requirement but also very important for detainees and their families, especially in situations of prolonged detention,” she said.

Written and direct, “interactive” contact “enables detainees to maintain their sense of human dignity and allows the family members — be it a father, mother, wife, son or daughter —the opportunity to see their relative and hear their voice.”

The disclosure also derailed a defense lawyer’s bid to bring the prison camps commander, Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, to court to explain what kind of secrets the alleged USS Cole bomber could still have after 12 years in custody.

Former CIA prisoners can’t say in public what was done to them or where because that information is still classified. Court proceedings are done on a 40-second delay to give a censor time to bleep out secret information — and the U.S. military has been testing a similar time-delayed phone chat capability, according to one person involved in the process.

A lawyer for alleged 9/11 deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh, who was captured on Sept. 11, 2002 in Pakistan, said his Yemeni client and his family had gotten the word but no phone calls yet.

“All excited,” attorney James Harrington said in a brief email Thursday on his return from overseas travel.

All the former CIA captives got the word several weeks ago, according to Kammen, when Camp 7 staff gave them forms to fill out with names of people they’d like to see on the other side.

Defense attorneys learned about it from an atypically grinning Nashiri at court. Kammen said it should help with his morale as lawyers try to get the Saudi to help them prepare for a death-penalty trial whose next phase will include pretrial examination of hearsay witnesses.

Follow @CarolRosenberg on Twitter

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