Home News War crimes hearings give public virtual look inside secret CIA prison

War crimes hearings give public virtual look inside secret CIA prison

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The public got its first tour of a CIA “black jail” on Monday, including a windowless, closet-sized cell where a former al-Qaeda commander was held for what he called the most humiliating experience of his time in a U.S. prison.

During his sentencing hearing at Guantánamo Bay last week, former commander Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi gave visitors a 360-degree virtual tour of the quiet Cell 4. He described how he was twice blindfolded, stripped, had his head forcibly shaved and had nude photographs taken after his capture in 2006.

He never saw the sun, nor heard the voices of the guards, who were dressed entirely in black and wore masks.

Mr. Hadi, 63, is one of the last prisoners held in a network of overseas blackmail facilities where the George W. Bush administration held and interrogated about 100 terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Even now, years after the Obama administration shut down the program, its secrecy remains. But details are slowly emerging during the national security trials of former Guantánamo Bay prisoners.

Observers in court on Monday saw “Quiet Room 4,” an empty, 6-square-foot room that Mr. Hardy said resembled where he was held for three months — except that there was a blood stain on the cell wall.

It was an extraordinary moment. Mr. Hardy was addressing the U.S. military jury from a padded therapy chair, where he sits due to a spinal condition that paralyzes him. He read slowly from an unclassified English manuscript, pausing occasionally to regain his composure or wipe away tears.

Mr. Hardy described his conditions as brutal, but said his experience as a prisoner in the United States had left him with a heart full of remorse and forgiveness.

The prisoner pleaded guilty to war crimes charges in 2022. On Monday, he apologized before a jury for violations committed by Taliban and al-Qaeda forces under his command during the Afghan war in 2003 and 2004. Some of them used civilian cover to carry out attacks, such as turning taxis into car bombs. Others became suicide bombers or shot at medical evacuation helicopters.

“As a commander, I am responsible for everything my men did,” he said during his 90-minute speech. “I want you to know that I have no hatred in my heart toward anybody. I thought I was doing the right thing. It wasn’t. I’m sorry.”

Speaking about his time in CIA custody, Mr. Hadi described the months following his arrest in Turkey in late 2006, before disappearing into the last remnants of the Afghan black jail program until his release in April 2007.

Initially he was held in a windowless cell with a built-in stainless steel shower and toilet, as shown in court footage, and after months of being questioned about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, he was moved and on Monday said he did not know the whereabouts of bin Laden.

The cell next door shown in court was empty, with no toilet or shower – just three shackles on the wall. Mr Hardy said that during the three months he was held there, there was a thin mat on the floor, a toilet bowl and a bloodstain on one wall.

He said that at one point, his food ration contained pork, which is forbidden in Islam. He refused to eat and became so weak that he could not stand. His captors then brought him a nutritional substitute called Ensure. He said he could not see the sun and had no clock to know when to pray.

The images, if not the testimony, astonished one government lawyer. When Mr. Hadi’s lawyers began sifting through images of cells similar to the one where Mr. Hadi was held in solitary confinement in 2006 and 2007, a prosecutor protested, only to learn later that the material had recently been declassified.

The existence of the forensic photos was first revealed in the Sept. 11, 2016, case. Prosecutors provided the material to defense attorneys but did not reveal the location of the last known intact prison in the blackmail program. Monday’s testimony made clear that the prison was in Afghanistan.

A jury will decide on a sentence of 25 to 30 years for Mr. Hardy. But U.S. officials may push for a shorter sentence.

A jury sentenced another former CIA prisoner, Majid Khan, to 26 years in prison after he was allowed to describe the torture he suffered during his 2021 sentencing hearing. Suggest he be pardoned Mr. Khan was subsequently placed in Belize because of the abuse he suffered in U.S. custody. Reunion with family.

Last week, victims of attacks by Hadi’s forces testified that Let them continue to be sad On Monday, Mr. Hardy spoke directly to them, who had suffered mental and physical damage in the early days of America’s longest war.

“I know what it’s like to see another soldier dead or injured,” he said. “I know how it feels, and I’m sorry. I know you’ve suffered so much.”

He seemed to be referring to a Florida man in particular. Bill Eggers talks about losing his firstborn sonIn 2004, Hadi’s forces planted a roadside bomb that killed a commando. “I know how it feels to be a father of a son,” he said. “The grief you feel for losing your son must be overwhelming. I’m sorry.”

Mr Hardy began his address to the jury by apologising for sitting in a padded therapy chair rather than standing up to address them. “I have a problem with my spine,” he said.

Mr. Hadi strode into the courtroom flanked by military police at his first trial in 2014. He is now immobilized by degenerative disc disease and, after six operations, some of which were unsuccessful, relies on painkillers, a wheelchair and a four-wheeled walker to get around.

He described his 17 years at Guantánamo as a sometimes lonely, isolating experience punctuated by individual acts of kindness. He said the prison nurses “tended to me with tenderness and kindness” while he recovered from surgery.

In him ParalyzedHe said an American military doctor helped him find accommodation in the cell “and would come and play checkers with me and keep me company while I recovered from surgery.”

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