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Embassy bombing defendant found to be feigning mental illness

In August 1998, 224 people died when the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, were bombed  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Three doctors who conducted psychological exams of embassy bombing suspect Wadih el Hage found no evidence that he has a genuine psychiatric disorder, but rather that he is feigning amnesia.

The judge in the case, Leonard B. Sand, ordered the pyschiatric exams last month after el Hage's attorney presented concerns that El Hage's mental state was deteriorating and the was unable to understand the nature of the proceedings against him.

Sand did not rule on whether el Hage is competent to stand trial, pending a full hearing Friday, but he did say that the working hypothesis until then is that the defendant is competent. El Hage's attorney, Sam Schimdt, had no comment on the doctors' findings.


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El Hage is one of four men scheduled to go on trial January 3 on charges they conspired with Osama bin Laden to blow up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Those attacks in August 1998 killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens.

At his court appearance Monday, the defendant shuffled into the courtroom, his legs in shackles and his eyes downcast. At one point he nearly walked into a large table and had to be guided away from it from by a U.S. marshal.

A few minutes into the hearing, after the judge read the psychiatrists' conclusions, el Hage spoke out, attempting to address the judge.

"Why do they have to take off my clothes? They asked me to get naked today," el Hage told the judge, referring to strip searches conducted in his jail cell.

When told to be silent by the judge, el Hage then complained in a thin, high-pitched voice, "Who will listen to my complaint?"

This was not the first time the issue of strip searches has been raised in the embassy bombing case. El Hage's attorney, Sam Schmidt said his client finds the searches an affront to his Islamic religion and the judge is reviewing videotapes of searches conducted November 6, 7 and 9.

Five days after a November 1 incident in which two of el Hage's co-defendants allegedly stabbed a prison officer in the eye in an escape attempt, el Hage was strip-searched and his prison cell was emptied of all possessions except a t-shirt, prison jumper, and part of the Koran. According to his attorney, el Hage's shoulder was injured by prison guards during that search. He then refused to cooperate with a strip search the next day.

Sand said he did not believe the searches were meant to punish el Hage, adding that if he saw any evidence of abuse he would respond.

Since the stabbing incident, the judge has agreed to a government request that documents containing the religious orders, or fatwahs, of bin Laden, as well as military training manuals, be removed from all the defendants' cells.

Sand cited the inflammatory nature of the material in issuing his ruling, but noted that the defendants could still have access to the documents through their lawyer if needed to mount a defense. Government prosecutors had argued that the material could be used to plan violence or to escape from custody.

In an earlier proceeding on Monday, the judge refused to close another hearing to the public despite a defense argument that the material to be presented at the hearing could taint the jury pool in the upcoming trial.

Attorneys for Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, who is charged with driving the explosive-laden truck to the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, will ask Sand Tuesday to suppress evidence gathered by U.S. agents who conducted the initial investigation in Kenya.

The attorneys will argue that al-Owhali was denied the fifth amendment right to counsel following his apprehension. Al-Owhali was detained August 12, 1998, four days after the bombing, and his attorneys say he was held incommunicado until August 28. His physical and mental detention during that period will be the subject of the hearing. Al-Owhali is expected to take the witness stand on Thursday.

Seventeen people have been indicted on charges that they had a role in the 1998 embassy bombings. In addition to the four facing trial in January, two men more men are in custody in New York. Ali Mohamed has pleaded guilty to the charges and will be sentenced in July 2001. Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, who is one of two defendants who allegedly attacked the corrections officer on November 1, had his trial date postponed until the conclusion of the first trial. Three men are in custody in London, awaiting extradition to the U.S. And the remaining eight suspects, including alleged mastermind bin Laden, remain at large.

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