Defense for U.S. warship bombing suspect focuses on Obama torture statement

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 05, 2014 1:24 PM

By Tom Ramstack

FORT MEADE Md. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's acknowledgment that the CIA tortured suspects after the 9/11 attacks arose in a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday of the prime suspect in the 2000 bombing of a U.S. warship.

Attorneys for the Saudi suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, argued at the hearing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that he should not face the death penalty unless he had access to all the evidence against him, even the part that remains classified, given the president's recent statement.

They also want the judge to throw out statements that Nashiri and other suspects made that implicate him in the suicide bombing that killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 42 while the USS Cole was at a port in Yemen.

A judge ruled this year that the military's procedures for disclosing evidence were adequate even if some of it remained classified.

Nashiri's attorneys at the hearing, which was monitored over closed-circuit television at Fort Meade, Maryland, near Washington, said changed circumstances required new arguments on how much evidence should be disclosed to the defense team.

"One of the things that has changed is President Obama’s statement, and I quote, 'We tortured some folks,'" said Army Major Thomas Hurley, one of Nashiri's lawyers at the hearing at the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Hurley said the judge should order a "torture history" of Nashiri to determine how abusive behavior affected his statements.

A Central Intelligence Agency inspector general's report that was made partly public in 2009 said Nashiri was subjected to waterboarding, or simulated drowning, and was threatened with a gun and a power drill while he was held at secret CIA prisons.

His attorneys have said that anything he and others said under torture should not be used as evidence against him.

At a White House press conference in August, Obama said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, "We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks."

Almost 3,000 people were killed when hijackers slammed airliners into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside in the attacks.

On Wednesday, Air Force Colonel Judge Vance Spath described Obama's comments as "a statement of a politician."

"What do I do with that?" Spath asked. "My issue is the facts."

Government prosecutors said no new facts had arisen that required disclosing more classified information.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Susan Heavey)