The only Guantánamo Bay detainee transferred to federal courts for trial wants the Bureau of Prisons to stop "body cavity searches" of him because they trigger flashbacks of his claimed mistreatment at the hands of the CIA, according to a ruling unsealed Wednesday by a Manhattan federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan revealed he has ordered a hearing on the issue Thursday and wants to hear testimony from Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, who he said has been waiving all court appearances because of claimed fears of being strip-searched during transfers from jail.
If the hearing occurs and Ghailani testifies in open court - neither a certainty - it would mark an extraordinary and unprecedented public dissection of claimed mistreatment by a Guantánamo detainee.
Ghailani, described as a former aide to Osama bin Laden, was captured in Pakistan in 2004 and held in secret CIA prisons and the Guantánamo military jail until last year. He was brought to federal court in Manhattan to face conspiracy charges in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
His lawyers have previously alleged that interrogators had reduced him to a state of "learned helplessness" to get him to cooperate.
Kaplan said the "complicated" history began when a court-appointed psychiatrist examined Ghailani last year after he reacted badly to a strip search that included "visual inspection" of his rectal area. The psychiatrist concluded Ghailani suffers from "post-traumatic stress disorder" and that "nudity serves as a profound trigger for Mr. Ghailani, thrusting him into vivid memories of the interrogation he endured."
Kaplan said he held a hearing on the motion to restrict searches last month based on written filings. He decided that he couldn't resolve it without hearing live testimony from both Ghailani and the psychiatrist, and set a hearing for Thursday.
He said, however, that Ghailani's lawyers are now opposing the hearing - in part, because Ghailani will have to be strip-searched to attend. Kaplan said Ghailani won't have to testify if he prefers not to, but has to appear to allow the judge to observe his demeanor and figure out whether the claims are genuine or a ruse.
Prosecutors declined to comment Wednesday. A lawyer for Ghailani said his client's claims should be taken "very seriously."