A man accused of helping mastermind 9/11 has been ruled unfit to stand trial after he developed post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis following years of torture at the hands of the CIA.
Ramzi bin al-Shibh, 51, was one of five defendants due to face a death-penalty trial over allegations he helped plot the 2001 terror attacks which killed almost 3,000 people.
Following his arrest in Pakistan in 2002, Mr bin al-Shibh was for years held in CIA-controlled facilities, during which time he was chained naked to the ceiling, forced to stand sleepless for three days at a time and detained in prefabricated cells kept on springs to keep prisoners off balance, according to The New York Times.
David I Bruck, Mr bin al-Shibh’s lawyer, argued the CIA torture had made the Yemeni prisoner “insane”, the newspaper reported.
The defendant is accused of helping organise the Al Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, that hijacked one of two passenger jets that crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York.
Last month he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with a secondary psychotic feature.
On Thursday, more than two decades after the attacks, judge Col Matthew N McCall disqualified Mr bin al-Shibh from a conspiracy case involving four other defendants.
“The totality of the facts demonstrates an accused who is wholly focused on his delusions,” Colonel McCall wrote.
“Again and again, he focuses his counsel’s work on stopping his delusional harassment, (which) demonstrates the impairment of his ability to assist in his defence.”
Lawyer Thomas A Durkin of Chicago, who previously represented Mr bin al-Shibh, told The Telegraph he had raised the issue of his mental health at the initial arraignment in July of 2008.
“What’s most outrageous is he should’ve been severed from this case right off the bat. He was clearly suffering from PTSD and psychosis. He would have outbursts in court,” he said.
“He was literally chained to the floor of the courtroom. He was the only one, the others were not chained at all,” Mr Durkin added.
“He was obviously suffering from the effects of the torture. It was extremely difficult to communicate with him.
“I think it’s commendable that at least this judge had the courage to confront the obvious.”
Prosecutors had urged the judge to reject the Aug 24 finding that Mr bin al-Shibh has “a mental disease or defect” that left him “unable to understand the nature of the proceedings against him or cooperate intelligently” with his legal team.
The defendant had for years complained he was under attack by invisible forces that caused his bed to vibrate and sting his genitals, depriving him of sleep.
‘Complex delusions and hallucinations’
Mr Bruck told the judge on Tuesday his client’s “complex delusions and hallucinations” are “omnipresent” at legal meetings.
For Mr bin al-Shibh to improve, he said, “his PTSD has to be treated. It’s not going to get any better until it is.”
The pre-trial proceedings were set to continue on Friday with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is accused of being the mastermind of the plot, and the other three defendants.
“It is no longer possible,” Mr Bruck said on Thursday night, to deny “that the CIA torture programme did profound harm to the people subjected to it”.
He added that, while the board found Mr bin al-Shibh unfit in August, “there is nothing new about his condition now”.
“He has been like this the whole time,” Mr Bruck said. “It has taken this long to admit it.”
A military medical board in 2008 said that Mr bin al-Shibh might have a “severe mental disease” and in 2009 prosecutors told the court that he was taking “a variety of psychotropic medications used to treat schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder”.
Mr bin al-Shibh had wanted to die in the September 11 attacks but did not have the chance, according to a 9/11 Commission report.
He repeatedly applied for and was rejected for a US visa and instead became an alleged key liaison between hijacker Mohammed Atta and al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan.