An FBI agent testifying at the first Guantanamo war crimes trial said interrogators did not advise detainees here of any rights because the military prison is dedicated to intelligence gathering, not law enforcement.
Agent Ali Soufan, an al-Qaida expert and star witness for the prosecution, said Tuesday the Guantanamo Bay Navy base is the only place in the world where he has not informed suspects of a right against self-incrimination.
"The way it was explained to us is Guantanamo Bay is an intelligence collection point," he said.
Defense lawyers asked the judge in Salim Hamdan’s trial to throw out all the Guantanamo interrogations, arguing that intelligence-gathering sessions should not be used against him in court. But Judge Keith Allred, a Navy captain, ruled Monday that constitutional protections against self-incrimination do not apply to the man declared an "enemy combatant."
Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, is charged with conspiracy and aiding terrorism. His lawyers have cast him as a low-level employee of the terrorist leader without any role in al-Qaida.
Other agents from the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service who interrogated Hamdan said at pretrial hearings last week that they were instructed not to advise Guantanamo detainees of rights, but Soufan is the first to provide a reason.
Soufan said the Guantanamo policy was an exception to a practice he followed even in Hamdan’s native Yemen, where he interviewed suspects in the investigation into the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
He is expected to testify Wednesday about two interrogations of Hamdan in 2002. A judge’s ruling is pending on whether to admit a third interrogation he conducted in May 2003, as defense lawyers review hundreds of pages of newly released prison records for evidence of coercion.
The judge suppressed other statements by Hamdan in Afghanistan because he made them under "highly coercive" conditions including isolation and beatings.
In opening arguments Tuesday, prosecutors said Hamdan helped bin Laden evade U.S. retribution after the Sept. 11 attacks and ferried weapons for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"You will not see evidence from the government that the accused ever fired a shot," said prosecutor and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Stone. "But what you will see is testimony regarding the accused’s role in al-Qaida, how he became a member of al-Qaida and how he helped, facilitated and provided material support for that organization."
Two U.S. military officers testified that two surface-to-air missiles were in the car Hamdan was driving when Afghan forces captured him at a roadblock in November 2001.
Hamdan faces a maximum life sentence if convicted. The trial is expected to take three to four weeks. The U.S. says it plans to prosecute about 80 prisoners at Guantanamo.