GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) — Defense lawyers in the Sept. 11 war crimes case at Guantanamo Bay asked a judge Wednesday to secure a copy of a U.S. Senate report on the CIA's harsh interrogation tactics before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, at which point they fear it might be too late.
The incoming Trump administration may be less likely to turn over the so-called Senate "torture report" or may even seek to destroy it, lawyer James Connell told the military judge presiding over the case.
"The new administration has made statements promising waterboarding or worse and there are many reasons to believe it is hostile to preservation of the report," Connell said during a pretrial hearing at the U.S. base in Cuba.
The Senate Intelligence Committee released a nearly 500-page summary of the report on the CIA "enhanced" interrogation program in December 2014. It provided details on the at-times brutal treatment of 119 prisoners, including five men facing trial by military commission at Guantanamo for their alleged roles planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
Eight copies of the report were distributed to various branches of the government, including the Department of Defense, but the CIA inspector general disclosed that it had inadvertently destroyed its copy, said Connell, who represents defendant Ammar al Baluchi.
The chief prosecutor, Army Gen. Mark Martins, opposes the request. He told the judge that the prosecution is already turning over information that forms the basis of the report and that the court may not have the authority to demand the full copy be turned over to the defense.
Lawyers for the five men want the full report, totaling about 6,000 pages, as well as supporting documents to help with the trial defense and to argue against the death penalty should they be convicted of charges that include hijacking and nearly 3,000 counts of murder in violation of the laws of war.
Attorney David Nevin, who represents lead defendant Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, said the report provides "absolutely vital" information about the treatment of his client, who was subjected to waterboarding and other measures now widely regarded as torture while held in clandestine CIA prisons. "The importance of this information is really hard to overstate," he said as he urged the judge to take action before the January inauguration.
The request came during the third day of a pretrial hearing in the case. A trial date has not been scheduled but it is at least a year away.
The issue of the men's treatment while in CIA custody had been one of the main reasons that the proceedings have dragged on slowly since the May 2012 arraignment. Much of the information surrounding the CIA's enhanced interrogation program remains classified, including in which countries the treatment occurred. Robert Swann, a civilian prosecutor in the case, bristled during a hearing Tuesday when the subject came up again, defending what he called "good men and women" who were trying to stop another attack on the United States. "I know that lives were saved," he said.