WASHINGTON - A federal district judge, saying he questioned the government's claim that a Guantanamo Bay detainee had planned a radioactive-bomb attack in the United States, ordered the Justice Department on Thursday to give the detainee's lawyers documents on his treatment.
The documents are central to the claim of the prisoner, Binyam Mohammed, that he falsely confessed to the dirty-bomb plot and other offenses only after being tortured in Morocco at the direction of the United States.
"My concern is getting to the truth," the judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, said at a hearing.
The case of Mohammed, an Ethiopian-born former British resident, has drawn international attention and been at the center of diplomatic tensions between the United States and Britain. This week, British officials said they had referred questions about his treatment for possible criminal investigation by their law enforcement authorities.
The tension between the governments intensified in recent weeks after the Pentagon dropped war crimes charges against Mohammed and the Justice Department said it would no longer rely on its dirty-bomb claims for holding him.
At the Thursday hearing, Sullivan asked why, after more than six years, the government had stepped away from its claims about a dirty-bomb plot. "That raises a question as to whether or not the allegations were ever true," the judge said.
In 2002, John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, announced that a plot to detonate a radioactive bomb in the United States had been foiled and an American citizen, Jose Padilla, detained. The Pentagon has said that Mohammed assisted Padilla.
After Padilla was held for 31/2 years in a naval brig, the Justice Department abandoned its dirty-bomb claims against him. He was convicted of other charges in 2007.
Pressed by Sullivan on Thursday as to whether the government stood behind its assertion of a dirty-bomb plot, a Justice Department lawyer, Andrew Warden, said, "The short answer is yes."
But Warden said the government could prove that Mohammed was being properly held without evidence of that plot. Military prosecutors have said they will file new charges against Mohammed with the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal, but they have not said whether the bomb plot will be among those charges.
The government says Mohammed confessed to the plot and to attending Qaida training camps.
Zachary Katznelson, a lawyer for Mohammed, said Thursday that all his confessions were made after "he was tortured again and again and again until he just parroted what his torturers wanted him to say." In Morocco, Katznelson said, Mohammed was beaten and repeatedly cut on his genitals and elsewhere.
The documents Sullivan directed the government to turn over concern Mohammed's treatment during the two years he was held in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan after he was first detained at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. Katznelson said evidence of torture would prove that Mohammed had never voluntarily admitted the dirty-bomb plot or any other involvement with al-Qaida.
The government has said Mohammed's claims of torture are not credible. Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, said: "The CIA does not conduct or condone torture. Nor does it transport individuals anywhere for the purpose of torture."