FORT MEADE Md. (Reuters) - Defense lawyers for the accused mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen asked a judge on Thursday that he be examined for brain injury from CIA interrogations.
The suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi, was captured by the Central Intelligence Agency in Dubai in 2002. He was held in secret CIA prisons for four years before being transferred to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He is accused of masterminding the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole at Aden, Yemen, that killed 17 U.S. sailors. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.
Richard Kammen, Nashiri's attorney, said that he underwent waterboarding, or simulated drowning, under CIA questioning, as well as being threatened with a gun and a power drill.
"There is ample reason to believe that what occurred in CIA custody could have caused brain injury," Kammen told Air Force Colonel Judge Vance Spath at a pre-trial hearing at Guantanamo Bay.
Kammen wanted a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan done on his client's brain as well as other tests needed to determine whether Nashiri suffered lingering injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Evidence of injury could affect his defense and sentencing, Kammen said. Nashiri faces the death penalty or life imprisonment on charges that include murder, terrorism and conspiracy.
Army Colonel Robert Moscatti, the deputy chief prosecutor, said an MRI, even if it proved brain damage, would not show when or where the injury was inflicted.
Spath agreed evidence of brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder could affect the outcome of the trial and sentencing.
He also expressed concern that defense attorneys' requests for more information from prosecutors were delaying Nashiri's trial, which was scheduled to begin in February.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in August that the CIA had run a secret jail in Poland as part of a network for detaining al Qaeda suspects. The case was bought by lawyers for Nashiri and another Guantanamo inmate, Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah.
Reuters monitored Nashiri's hearing at Guantanamo Bay via closed-circuit television at Fort Meade, outside Washington.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Doina Chiacu)