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Originally published October 23, 2012 at 9:48 PM | Page modified October 24, 2012 at 7:19 AM

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Guantánamo detainees watched debate in cellblocks

Detainees held at Guantánamo were able to watch Monday night's foreign-affairs debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

The Miami Herald

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GUANTÁNAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Dozens of well-behaved captives here tuned into Monday night's foreign-affairs debate between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, a detention-center official said Tuesday.

Detainees watched in two separate cellblocks that get satellite TV broadcasts at Camp 6, the communal prison building for cooperative captives, said Army Capt. Jennifer Palmeri. Another block listened to it over the radio.

If they were hoping to hear about their own situation, they were disappointed. Guantánamo didn't come up, although there was a short exchange over U.S. drone policy, a likely subject of interest because most U.S. drone strikes are in Yemen and most of the 166 detainees at Guantánamo are Yemeni.

No polls were conducted, nor were focus groups assembled. So it was not immediately known who the detainees thought won the debate.

It also wasn't known in what language they followed the debate or on what channel. Guantánamo captives get mostly free-of-charge broadcasts from the Middle East and North Africa, but also have access to Al Jazeera's English channel.

How detainee

dyed his hair

The alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, used improvised prison-camp products — berries and breakfast juice, not store-bought henna — to dye his white beard red for this year's war-court appearances, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

How the self-described former chief of al-Qaida operations reddened his beard for his May arraignment and again at last week's hearing had been a five-month mystery.

His lawyers are under a prison camp gag order and the detention center is especially secretive about what goes on in Camp 7, Guantánamo's clandestine prison for former CIA captives.

Tuesday, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said in response to a 5-month-old question that Mohammed "did craft his own natural means" inside the prison camps to concoct his self-styled beard dye.

"I don't have his exact procedure," Breasseale said, "but can confirm the use of at least berries and juice to create a kind of harmless dye."

Mohammed got to Guantánamo in 2006 after 183 rounds of CIA water boarding and boasted that he planned the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "from A to Z." He and four alleged accomplices face a death-penalty prosecution as organizers, funders and trainers of the 9/11 hijackers.

At his hearing last week, Mohammed got permission from his judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, to wear a hunting vest to his trial. The prison camps commander had vetoed the attire.

The 49-year-old, U.S.-educated Pakistani has come to court carefully adorned — in a white turban and traditional tunic — a sharp contrast to his disheveled appearance in a photograph taken at his 2003 capture, which showed him rousted from bed in an ill-fitting T-shirt with black stubble on his chin.

The next time Mohammed was seen in public, at a 2008 war-court hearing, he had a massive gray and white beard that made him look like an old man. Author Terry McDermott, who co-wrote a book about Mohammed, "The Hunt for KSM," said the dye reflected a certain narcissism.

"It's all vanity," he said. "Remember, this is the guy who likened himself to George Washington."

Pretrial recessed

over storm fears

GUANTÁNAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — With eastern Cuba under a hurricane watch, a military judge opened then quickly recessed a pretrial hearing in the USS Cole bombing case Tuesday with an order to force a boycotting terror suspect to court on Wednesday — "weather permitting."

At issue is whether Saudi-born captive Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 47, voluntarily agreed around dawn Tuesday to skip this week's legal arguments in his death-penalty case as alleged architect of al-Qaida's 2000 suicide bombing of the $1 billion destroyer off Aden, Yemen.

The chief war-crimes prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, opposes voluntary absence. But he insisted that al-Nashiri be brought to court to be advised of his rights and answer questions — even if he won't agree to leave his prison camp cell peacefully.

Al-Nashiri was charged in November and had for months been cooperative, coming to court and sitting quietly.

But his lawyers argue that the way the military brings him to court — shackled and blindfolded — is traumatic and reminds him of the torture he suffered when CIA agents interrogated al-Nashiri by waterboarding him and holding a gun and drill to his hooded head before he got to Guantánamo in 2006.

The judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, sent al-Nashiri's lawyers to the prison camps Tuesday afternoon to try to coax the captive to court, rather than have him forced from his cell.

Pohl allowed five accused Sept. 11 plotters to voluntarily skip their hearings last week, and said he would afford al-Nashiri the same courtesy.

But the general prosecuting the case, Martins, said the judge must record al-Nashiri's consent to miss court before sending him back to prison.

Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed in the attack. Martins seeks al-Nashiri's execution as its alleged architect.

The dispute stalled legal arguments this week on a range of fundamental issues — from how much defense lawyers can learn on a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2002 to when the war on terror began.

But the whole issue might not come to a head Wednesday.

Navy commanders were studying weather charts to see when Hurricane Sandy might strike eastern Cuba and to decide whether to scrap this week's session. That's what happened in August as Tropical Storm Isaac formed in the Caribbean.

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