A military medical commission has found that Ramzi bin al-Shibh, charged with conspiracy in the September 11 attacks, suffered from a mental illness that made him incompetent to stand trial or plead guilty in the death penalty case, according to a report. filed with his trial judge on Friday.
The discovery is the latest setback in the prosecution’s efforts to bring the long-running capital cases at Guantanamo Bay to justice. Last week, a military judge rejected the confessions of a man accused of planning the bombing of the USS Cole, the other major case at Guantanamo, because they were contaminated by the torture suffered by the CIA.
The issue of Mr bin al-Shibh’s mental health and his ability to help his lawyers defend him has overshadowed the 9/11 conspiracy case since his first court appearance in 2008. Then a military lawyer revealed that his client was tied with ankle chains. and that the prison had given him psychotropic drugs. He disrupted pretrial hearings over the years with outbursts, and in court and in filings he complained that the CIA tormented him with noises, vibrations, and other techniques to deprive him of sleep.
It was unclear whether the prisoner had been allowed to see the report, which was filed under seal on Friday; For years he resisted the idea that he suffered from a mental illness and that he should be excluded from the joint trial with the man accused of being the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and three other defendants. The five men are accused of conspiring in the 2001 plane hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.
It is now up to the judge, Col. Matthew N. McCall, to decide whether to remove Mr bin al-Shibh from the case and launch charges involving four men – or postpone proceedings pending treatment. Colonel McCall has scheduled hearings on the subject for the week of September 18 at Guantánamo Bay.
One of the questions will be whether prosecutors will challenge those findings and seek testimony from commission members and other experts on how he might be treated with the limited health care available at the 30-minute detention center. Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Mr. bin al-Shibh’s attorney, David I. Bruck, contacted Friday at Guantánamo Bay, declined to discuss or comment on the report.
Friday’s report follows a judge’s order in April ordering three mental health experts to investigate whether Mr bin al-Shibh “suffers from a mental illness or defect that renders him mentally incapable of stand trial”. Prosecutors filed it under seal.
But three people who saw the report, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not been published, said it was not deemed competent. One person who read it said the panel diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder “with psychotic features”.
Mr bin al-Shibh is accused of organizing the 9/11 hijacker cell in Hamburg, Germany, including researching flight schools in the United States and transferring money to some of the 19 hijackers who took part in the attack. He also reportedly worked with the cell’s leader, Mohammed Atta, and informed al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan that the attack would take place on 9/11.
The medical board reached its conclusions more than a year after prosecutors urged defendants to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison, rather than risk the death penalty at trial, by admitting their role in hijackings.
The talks, which began in March 2022, are mostly stalled pending a response from the Biden administration on whether it will provide several assurances, including that, as convicts, the men will not be held in solitary confinement.
But prosecutors noted in recent documents that because Mr. bin al-Shibh was passing the competency exam, he was excluded from the talks.
It’s unclear what military medical staff at the prison can do to restore their skills. Among other things, the defendants want assurances, as part of the plea deal, that the prison will set up a civilian-run trauma care program for them.
According to their lawyers, at least four of the defendants suffer from sleep disturbances, brain damage, gastrointestinal damage or other health problems they attribute to the agency’s brutal interrogation methods during their three four years in CIA detention before being transferred to Guantánamo Bay in 2006.