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Doctors to review USS Cole suspect's CIA detention records

By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - CIA records documenting the waterboarding and interrogation of an alleged al Qaeda chieftain must be shown to the doctors who will decide whether he is mentally competent for trial on charges of conspiring to bomb a U.S. warship, a judge ordered.

The order, dated Thursday, ensures that the mental competency board will consider allegations that Saudi defendant Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was tortured during the four years he spent in secret CIA prisons, among other criteria.

Nashiri, 48, is accused of directing the suicide bombers who rammed a boat full of explosives into the USS Cole off Yemen in October 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding 37. He faces murder and attempted murder charges in the war crimes tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba and could be executed if convicted.

The judge overseeing the case, Army Colonel James Pohl, ordered a board of at least three doctors and clinical psychologists to decide by April 1 whether Nashiri is mentally competent to understand the proceedings and assist in his defense.

Competency board members will have top secret security clearances and will be chosen by a general who oversees the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where wounded U.S. soldiers and sailors are treated.

Defense lawyers have never claimed Nashiri was mentally incompetent.

But once they said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by torture in the now-shuttered CIA prisons, prosecutors said they were bound by the trial rules to ask that he undergo a mental competency exam.

The CIA has acknowledged that interrogators threatened to rape Nashiri's mother in his presence, subjected him to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding and threatened him with a gun and a power drill while he was naked and shackled.

Pohl's order said it will be up to the medical board to decide whether he is shackled and whether guards are present when they examine him at the Guantanamo detention center.

The judge's order does not mention the CIA by name but instructs the board to consider "relevant medical records and detention history of the accused, including classified records reflecting the nature of post-capture detention prior to surrender to Department of Defense detention" at Guantanamo in 2006.

Pretrial hearings in the Nashiri case were halted this week when the mental health issue arose and are scheduled to resume on April 14 if he is deemed competent.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Doina Chiacu)

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