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Defendant in USS Cole bombing case denounces Guantanamo treatment

The Guantanamo Bay prisoner charged with orchestrating the attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole denounced his treatment at the hands of the U.S. military, telling the judge in his case on Wednesday that he is subjected to painful and unnecessary security measures.

Defendant Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri said he may boycott future sessions of his war crimes tribunal if the military continues to use security measures such as belly chains while moving him around the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba.

"If the guards do not treat me better I have the right not to come and let the world know that the judge sentenced me to death because I did not show up to court due to chains," the defendant, standing and gesturing as he spoke, told the judge.

Al-Nashiri, allegedly a senior member of al-Qaida, faces charges that include terrorism and murder for allegedly orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the Cole, an attack that killed 17 crew members and wounded 37, as well as plots against two other ships. He could get the death penalty if convicted at a trial that is likely more than a year away.

The 47-year-old al-Nashiri, born in Saudi Arabia to a Yemeni father and Saudi mother, was held by the CIA for about four years before he was taken to Guantanamo in September 2006. His lawyers say his treatment prior to being sent to the U.S. base in Cuba was so harsh that they believe it may have caused post-traumatic stress disorder.

Attorney Richard Kammen said al-Nashiri's treatment at Guantanamo may be worsening his condition and has asked for a medical examination by doctors experienced in treating torture victims. Prosecutors say there is no evidence that security measures are harming the defendant, and the U.S. military denies mistreating prisoners at the base.

Al-Nashiri, speaking through an Arabic translator, did not provide many details about how he is treated in Guantanamo, where he is held in the ultra-high-security section known as Camp 7. He said that he gets sick and vomits when being transported from his cell in court and that the chains and chair in which he has to sit during court sessions aggravate his "bad back" and his "nerves." His chief complaint was the belly chains, which he insisted are unnecessary.

"I hope that the judge can explain to these guards and the people in charge to stop those aggressions," he said, making his most extensive remarks in public. "I call them aggressions because they have nothing to do with security."

His pretrial hearing took place as Guantanamo was pelted by a steady rain from the outer bands of the approaching Hurricane Sandy. Warning sirens wailed and officials warned people on the base, which has a population of about 5,500, to begin preparing for the storm. Nearly all of the 166 prisoners are housed in solid-wall structures that are designed to withstand hurricanes and those who aren't will be moved there, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman.

Al-Nashiri, who was clean-shaven and wore a suit jacket over a white tunic, said he did not attend Tuesday's pretrial motions session in protest of the chains. The judge required him to show up Wednesday to answer questions on the record about his decision not to attend at the request of prosecutors, who wanted to ensure that he was voluntarily skipping the hearing and that his absence would not create any later grounds for appeal.

The hearing to address more than 20 motions was scheduled to run through Thursday, but the court was trying to condense the agenda and finish early because of the approaching hurricane.

Al-Nashiri chose to remain in court after his brief speech as the court turned to other matters, including defense requests for additional evidence and expert witnesses. Among them was a defense request for more information from the government on an alleged senior al-Qaida figure killed in a November 2002 U.S. drone strike in Yemen who was identified by media at the time as a "mastermind" of the Cole bombing. The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, did not issue an immediate ruling on the motion.

Pohl also put off ruling on a defense motion to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the U.S. had not declared war at the time of the Cole bombing and therefore al-Nashiri should not be prosecuted in the special tribunal for war-time offenses known as the military commission.

Prosecutors responded that it would be up to the jurors in his eventual trial to determine whether his crimes meet the standard of war crimes under the 2009 law authorizing military commissions, and the judge said he would rule later on the question before he adjourned the session for the day.