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Red Cross to take new photos of Guantanamo detainees

The International Committee of the Red Cross is arranging with the Pentagon to take fresh photos later this year of the captives at Guantánamo for their families.

The development comes as old Red Cross photographs of the alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, are circulating anew on Islamist websites — renewing attention on the program that permitted Guantánamo captives to pose in traditional garb for family members who hadn’t seen them for a decade or more.

Now, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. David Woods disclosed the ongoing discussions in a letter to some Guantánamo defense lawyers included in a court filing in the USS Cole bombing case.

Woods predicted that the international agency that visits prisoners and their families around the globe would be allowed to take fresh photography in October, three years after a Red Cross photographer was allowed to make the last batch of portraits.

In Washington, ICRC spokesman Simon Schorno said the new photography later this year is “something we intend to do.”

Only photos with “the expressed approval of the U.S. authorities” are allowed to leave the Navy base, Schorno added.

The disclosure came up in the Cole case because defense lawyers want to show the alleged architect, their client, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a video they made with his parents via Skype from Saudi Arabia. In it, they send “greetings, blessings and expressions of love that one would normally expect parents to convey to a distant child,” his lawyers write.

Also, the lawyers want to take a still photograph of Nashiri to send to his parents, and to show potential witnesses in preparation for the trial that is expected to start next year.

Woods refused both requests.

The admiral said that the Saudi-born Nashiri refused to sit for his Red Cross portrait in 2009, the last time it was offered. Woods told the lawyers to “encourage” their client to participate in the next round, in October.

Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed in al Qaida’s October 2000 suicide bombing of the warship, and the Pentagon says Nashiri was the architect of the attack and is seeking his execution.

Now Nashiri’s lawyers are asking the chief war court judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, to let them both take the photograph and show the video during recesses at the next Cole pre-trial hearing, next month.

“The accused ’s family has not seen him in anything other than a sketch format for many years as a result of his detention with the CIA — where he was tortured — and his subsequent detention in Guantánamo,” the lawyers write.

U.S. forces captured Nashiri in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and interrogated him overseas in the CIA’s secret prison network, out of reach of the Red Cross.

While held, according to declassified reports, he was interrogated with waterboarding, at the point of a pistol and revving drill, to get him to spill al Qaida secrets. President George W. Bush had him moved to the U.S. Navy outpost in Cuba in September 2006, for the trial by military commission.

Woods controls what goes on at the detention and interrogation center, where Nashiri is held in a secret lock-up for ex-CIA captives called Camp 7.

Pohl has sovereignty over the court compound, called Camp Justice, while hearings are under way.

At the Pentagon, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman, would not confirm Woods’ remarks about the ongoing talks for new detainee portraits.

But Breasseale said a brief brouhaha over whether unauthorized photos had been smuggled from the prison camps was resolved last month when the military concluded that what appeared to be fresh photos of the alleged 9/11 mastermind were actually old, approved Red Cross images. Some had apparently been altered, he said.

The photography fits in with the Red Cross priority of “re-establishing and maintaining family links between detainees held at Guantanamo and their families,” the Red Cross’ Schorno said in Washington.

A Red Cross delegate with official access to Guantánamo took the last batch, permitting each detainee to don traditional attire, if he chose, rather than the Pentagon-issued prison camps uniforms. From those, the captive was allowed to select which images he wanted sent to his family member with a Red Cross message, each of which was subjected to censorship by the U.S. military.

The portraits are “not meant to be used in the public realms,” said Schorno. “However, the ICRC is not in a position to control their usage after they have been received by the families of the detainees.”

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