GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba, (AP) – A Guantanamo prisoner testified Thursday that U.S. troops made loud noises, kept the lights on in his cell, and frequently moved him around the prison to deprive him of sleep.
Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan detainee charged with attempted murder, told a military court he does not know why he was subjected to the military’s “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation program in May 2004, nearly 17 months after he was arrested.
“Day and night, they were shifting me from one room to another,” Jawad said.
His testimony came in a pretrial hearing at the U.S. war crimes court. Lawyers and human rights groups have accused the military of using sleep deprivation to “soften up” Guantanamo detainees for questioning, but this was the first time a prisoner testified about such treatment.
Jawad’s defense has asked the military judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley, to dismiss the charges, saying the sleep deprivation amounted to torture. Prosecutors denied that allegation.
“In no sense is it torture. In no sense is it coercion,” said prosecutor and Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld. “In no sense is it such mistreatment that charges should be dismissed.”
Prison records obtained by the defense show Jawad was moved between cells 112 times over two weeks in May 2004, sometimes after just a few minutes. The prisoner said bright lights were kept on in his cell, and guards made noises and played loud music to keep him awake.
Jawad testified the sleep disruption caused his blood pressure to rise and resulted in unspecified “mental problems.” Records obtained by the defense show he tried to commit suicide on Dec. 25, 2003, even before he was subjected to the “frequent flyer” treatment.
“Islam never permits suicide … but it was beyond my control,” he told the court through a Pashto interpreter. “That’s why I tried that.”
U.S. authorities have used sleep disruption to prepare prisoners for interrogations, but Jawad’s lawyer, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, says his client had already supposedly confessed to throwing a grenade that wounded two American soldiers and their translator in Afghanistan. He had also already been interrogated at least 21 times before May 2004.
Frakt said he believes the sleep deprivation was done for “sport” or as punishment. “Abnormal sleep deprivation is a form of mental torture,” he said.
Vandeveld noted in cross-examination of a sleep expert called by the defense that Jawad was sometimes allowed to remain in his cell for up to four hours. He said the prisoner was offered treatment by military psychiatric personnel.
Frakt has also filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on allegations that Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the legal adviser to the military commissions, used what the military calls “unlawful command influence” to make sure the detainee went quickly to trial.
Frakt said Hartmann pushed for charges against his client — even though prosecutors had said they weren’t ready — to try to garner public support for the military commissions.
Hartmann was barred last month from participating in another Guantanamo trial after the judge in the case said he lacked impartiality.
Hartmann testified Thursday that he acted within his authority to speed up the pace of prosecutions. He denied allegations that he mistreated military prosecutors under his supervision and had an abusive management style.
The judge did not issue an immediate ruling on either motion.