ACLU Says Government Used False Confessions

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 2, 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday accused the Obama administration of using statements elicited through torture to justify the confinement of a detainee it represents at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The ACLU is asking a federal judge to throw out those statements and others made by Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan who may have been as young as 12 when he was captured. His attorney argued that Jawad was abused in U.S. custody, threatened and subjected to intense sleep deprivation.

"The government's continued reliance on evidence gained by torture and other abuse violates centuries of U.S. law and suggests the current administration is not really serious about breaking with the past," said ACLU lawyer Jonathan Hafetz, who is representing Jawad in a lawsuit challenging his detention.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the government would not comment on the types of evidence it will use in Jawad's case challenging his imprisonment. "We intend to prove our case in court rather than attempt to do so through the media," Boyd said.

In court papers, the Justice Department alleges that Jawad threw a grenade into a vehicle containing two U.S. Special Forces soldiers and their Afghan interpreter on Dec. 17, 2002. Jawad was also associated with a group tied to Osama bin Laden, the government alleges.

After the grenade attack, Jawad was picked up by Afghan police, according to military and federal court records.

During U.S. military commission hearings on his case, a judge found that Afghan interrogators threatened to kill Jawad and his family if he did not confess to playing a role in the attack. Jawad then admitted to participating in the attack, wrote the judge, Army Col. Stephen R. Henley.

Later the same night, he was questioned by U.S. Special Forces and confessed again, Henley wrote.

In November, Henley found that the first set of statements were elicited through "physical intimidation and threats of death" and that Jawad's fears "had not dissipated by the second confession." He ruled that prosecutors could not use either of the confessions during military commission proceedings.

Despite Henley's ruling, Hafetz said the Justice Department wants to use those very confessions to justify Jawad's detention in the detainee's lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle.

Hafetz said he is also asking Huvelle to suppress other statements Jawad made to interrogators at the U.S. military prisons at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay. Those statements were tainted, Hafetz said, because Jawad was beaten, forced into painful "stress positions," and chained to a wall and deprived of sleep in Bagram. At Guantanamo, Jawad was interrogated more than 50 times and subjected to sleep deprivation, Hafetz said.

Jawad's situation received attention last year when a military prosecutor abruptly quit his post, saying that the case was riddled with problems and that the prisoner had suffered physical and psychological mistreatment while in custody.

That former prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, later filed a declaration supporting Jawad's challenge to his confinement in a federal lawsuit.

"It is my opinion, based on my extensive knowledge of the case, that there is no credible evidence or legal basis to justify Mr. Jawad's detention," Vandeveld wrote.