By Jane Sutton
MIAMI (Reuters) - Defense lawyers want to force a former CIA official who supervised what they called torture of al Qaeda captives to testify in the war crimes tribunal for five Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 attacks.
They argue that Jose Rodriguez, former director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, has information pertinent to the defense allegation that the government is using security classifications to hide evidence their clients were tortured.
The lawyers want Rodriguez to testify during a hearing set for June 12-15 for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed architect of the hijacked plane attacks, and four other captives accused of funding and training the hijackers.
All five face charges of conspiring with al Qaeda and murdering 2,976 people and could be executed if they are convicted. All were held in secret CIA prisons for three years before being sent to Guantanamo in 2006.
Rodriguez supervised the creation and implementation of the CIA detention program. In his book "Hard Measures," he described destroying videotapes showing interrogators using aggressive interrogation methods, including the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, on Mohammed and two other men now held at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama said waterboarding is torture and ordered an end to the practice.
Rodriguez told Reuters in an interview last month the interrogations produced information that was key to taking down the al Qaeda organization, something congressional Democrats have disputed. Rodriguez has said the interrogation techniques were authorized and did not amount to torture.
Defense lawyers in the Guantanamo tribunals do not have subpoena powers but prosecutors do. Lawyers for Mohammed's nephew, Pakistani defendant Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, asked the prosecution to subpoena Rodriguez. Prosecutors refused last week, saying the defense had not shown how Rodriguez's testimony would be relevant.
Ali's lawyers then asked the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, to compel prosecutors to produce Rodriguez for the June hearing. The request is pending.
If granted, it wouldn't necessarily mean a face-to-face confrontation in the Guantanamo courtroom between Rodriguez and some of the men whose detention he supervised at secret CIA "black sites."
One of Ali's lawyers, James G. Connell III, said the rules would allow Rodriguez to testify via video conference or telephone.
Rodriguez could not immediately be reached for comment.
Guantanamo prosecutors have argued that disclosing details about the defendants' interrogations could jeopardize national security.
"Each of the accused is in the unique position of having had access to classified intelligence sources and methods. The government, like the defense, must protect that classified information from disclosure," they wrote in court documents.
(Reporting By Jane Sutton)