Guantanamo detainee claims post-traumatic stress

Suspect says he would prefer military court; objects to strip searches that expose his genitals

Published May 18, 2010 9:57PM (EDT)

The first Guantanamo Bay detainee to face trial in a civilian court in the United States has said he would prefer to be tried before a military tribunal, a psychologist testified Tuesday.

The suspect's surprising admission came from psychologist Katherine Porterfield, who testified for several hours to support a defense request that strip search procedures be altered for Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani.

Ghailani has said he would not attend court hearings or his trial if he must submit to strip searches requiring him to squat and expose his private areas. He refused to come to Tuesday's hearing, as he has done for all but one hearing since November.

Porterfield said Ghailani told her during the 21 hours she spent with him since he was brought to the United States from Guantanamo Bay last year that he believed he would get a fairer trial before a military court, where soldiers would decide his fate.

She said he believed he was better off in the "military context, where members of the jury were in the military, whereas a jury of citizens will see him from the start as a terrorist."

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said he understood what Ghailani was saying, that soldiers would best understand the plight of someone who was fighting a war against the United States.

"That's a perfectly reasonable interpretation of it," Porterfield agreed.

Ghailani is charged in the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. He is the first Guantanamo detainee to be prosecuted in U.S. civilian courts.

The revelation about Ghailani's preference for a military court came as Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Chernoff was questioning Porterfield about Ghailani's bitterness toward the civilian court and what might motivate him not to want to go to trial besides having to undergo strip searches.

Porterfield testified that Ghailani suffered from post-traumatic syndrome as a result of enhanced interrogation procedures he underwent in a CIA-run camp overseas after his 2004 arrest. She said one traumatic event in particular left him severely harmed psychologically whenever he was forced to expose certain areas of his body.

She said Ghailani did not want it to be made public that he had suffered an event that is considered to ruin a person in some African cultures.

"They are degraded, they are less than, they are a ruined person," she said he told her.

"I said, 'Is being Muslim part of that?' And he said, 'Yes,'" Porterfield said of the cultural stigma that he felt he was left with.

She said he trembled, cried and at least once fell to the floor as he described some of the events that left him traumatized when he was in the interrogation camp.

Under Chernoff's questioning, though, she also acknowledged that Ghailani had given up on the U.S. courts as a place for a fair trial.

Chernoff also questioned whether Ghailani might be traumatized if he participated in the killing of people during bombings and other terrorist attacks. She agreed it was possible.

The judge did not immediately rule and left open the possibility that he could stage a hearing to determine Ghailani's competency to stand trial.

In 2001, four men were convicted in the embassy bombings that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans. All were sentenced to life in prison.

Porterfield said Ghailani told her he had read the trial transcript.

By Larry Neumeister

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