Peoria Journal Star

December 15, 2006

Pentagon report notes concerns
Former BU student's detention may be unjust

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A Pentagon report, declassified last year, expressed concern that conditions at the South Carolina brig where a West Peoria man is being held as an "enemy combatant" could be viewed as a violation of U.S. detention standards.

A summary of the 2004 report notes concern about isolation of detainees at the Charleston, S.C., Naval Brig.

"Limited number and unique status of detainees in Charleston precludes interaction with other detainees. Argument could be made that this constitutes isolation," stated the report written by the Navy's inspector general.

Extended solitary confine-ment can be considered inhumane treatment.

The summary also describes how one unidentified detainee at the brig had his Quran, mattress and pillow removed and was fed cold, prepackaged meals made for the U.S. military.

The report appears to confirm some of what attorneys for Ali Saleh Kahlab al-Marri contended in a lawsuit filed last year challenging the federal government's treatment of him. Al-Marri, a Qatari national and a graduate student at Bradley University, was arrested in Peoria in 2001 on charges of credit card fraud and lying to the FBI, but was moved to the military brig in 2003 after President Bush declared him an enemy combatant.

The lawsuit alleges his military jailers have subjected him to inhumane treatment and asks a federal district court in South Carolina to declare his rights have been violated.

"It confirms what we alleged. It seems to support our arguments that this was done and this was part of a plan," said attorney Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. "It's what we've been saying all along."

A Pentagon spokesman denied there is any policy condoning abuse.

"The Department of Defense policy is clear - we treat detainees humanely," said Navy Cmdr. J. D. Gordon.

Al-Marri is in the Charleston Naval Brig awaiting an appeals court ruling on whether he will be tried in a U.S. court or by a military commission. The government alleges al-Marri was an al-Qaida sleeper agent assigned to hack into the computer systems of U.S. banks and disrupt the U.S. financial system. An FBI analysis of his computer also found files on how to make hydrogen cyanide, a potentially lethal toxin, the government contends.

He's been held in near-total isolation since he arrived there in 2003. For the first 16 months, he was allowed no contact with anyone but guards. Now, he has access to his attorneys and the International Red Cross. He's had no contact with his wife and five children, who have returned to Qatar.

"It's been very difficult," Hafetz said. "I think he's had periods of time when he was in very bad shape, grave danger. And I think, overall, it's really harmed his physical and mental well-being. The notion of being locked up in these types of conditions and isolation defines cruel treatment.

"It's important that all facts come to light. It's important that it's public and that lawmakers are aware of what the executive branch has done and how it's disregarded American values and principles."

The disclosure of the Pentagon report could have a more direct impact on arguments made by lawyers for Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen and former Chicago street gang member also accused of terrorism. Padilla's lawyers say he's incompetent to stand trial because of torture while held in the South Carolina brig. Avi Cover, an attorney with Human Rights First, a New York-based advocacy group, said the Pentagon report "again puts the lie to many of the government's protestations that there's nothing going on."

Most distressing, Cover said, is that the Navy inspector general's report was one part of a larger investigation into interrogation and detention operations worldwide. The larger review, by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III, was presented to Congress in 2005.

"It means our government has not been candid with the people, but also it doesn't seem as if they've been entirely candid with Congress during the hearings," Cover said. "When you hold people in secret for such a long period of time, abuses will occur."

However, the Pentagon spokesman said the Church report is more than two years old and "has been thoroughly briefed to the Congress and the media."

"There have been 12 major reviews conducted of detention operations, none of which found there was any policy that condoned abuse," Gordon said. "The reviews have resulted in numerous recommendations, which have been implemented and have improved our detention operations."

 

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.