Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

  They write letters by night

Kevin Hayden posts another in his series of interviews with attorneys representing Guantanamo prisoners, this time with Buz Eisenberg. Like the others, it's a must read for all who'd like to know what's actually involved in George Bush's detention and interrogation policies. The defense lawyers have all manner of shocking information that never seems to make its way into the traditional media's accounts of what transpires at Gitmo (and other prisons in the spiderweb).

In this interview, Eisenberg passes along a striking letter written one month ago by another attorney, Sabin Willett. In it Willett asks that the US government begin to treat his clients with a modicum of dignity now that a federal court has ordered their release.

Willett represents Uighur prisoners held for 7 years without trial in appalling conditions. The government admits that they're not enemy combatants and haven't engaged in any hostile acts toward the US, but never the less has delayed for years releasing them. Some were shipped off in 2006 to a detention center in Albania, but other innocent Uighurs continue to be locked up at Gitmo.

So in October of this year a judge in the DC Court of Appeals, who once again found no reason for the continued detention of these 17 Uighur prisoners, finally acted decisively and ordered their release into the custody of fellow Uighurs living in and around Washington. The Bush administration, true to form, appealed the decision and got a stay of the court order, expecting that it could delay releasing the Uighurs until after Bush leaves office.

For Bush, the issue is not justice or national security. Instead, it's all about not having to admit he's been defeated in his attempt to lock prisoners away forever for no good cause. That's the real reason why the Uighurs have to continue to suffer imprisonment, so that Bush is not seen to have presided over their release.

It's the same thing in the case of Salim Hamdan, a former driver for bin Laden, who's being transferred to Yemen to serve out the last month of his sentence. This summer, a Guantanamo military tribunal rejected the inflated allegations leveled by the Bush administration and sentenced Hamdan effectively to 5 months in prison, to last until the end of 2008. In essence, the military jury said Hamdan would have to serve for the duration of the Bush administration...or nearly so. To be more precise, the jury compelled the Bush administration to decide in its last few weeks what to do after Hamdan's short sentence expired. Would it follow through on its threat and continue to imprison Hamdan – thus nullifying the point of the very kangaroo courts Bush had striven to create? As I commented at the time:

So the [Hamdan] sentence, which runs through late December, also puts Bush on the spot during the last few weeks of his rule. He has the chance, if he chooses to take it, to demonstrate once again for posterity that he fits the Wilsonian mold of the vindictive, embittered president. After that, though, his wishes will suddenly stop mattering any longer.

As it turns out, Bush took a middle route – the route of petulance. He's shipping Hamdan to Yemen and letting that government take the onus of releasing him when the sentence expires. The most important thing, as with the Uighurs, is that George Bush should not have to face up to his own defeat.

And so in an act of supreme petulance the Bush administration will continue to fight against releasing Uighur prisoners whose detention it cannot justify, and whom it cannot continue to hold. Even worse, as with so many other Gitmo prisoners who had the gall to seek vindication of their legal rights in court, the government officials are ensuring that the Uighurs are treated abysmally in captivity.

And here's where that striking letter by Sabin Willett comes in. He composed it shortly after the DoJ had obtained a stay of the DC Court's order for the Uighurs' immediate release. The letter is addressed to attorneys in the Department of Justice who had obtained the stay after losing the case. After describing just how cynically his opposite numbers have behaved in regard to the Uighurs, Willett asks that government at least treat his clients with a modicum of dignity, for once, when he travels to Guantanamo to meet with them on October 27th. In particular, he asks that they not be shackled at the meeting since their imprisonment has been found to be illegal.

The letter speaks volumes about a good many things:

From: Willett, P. Sabin
Sent: Saturday, October 25, 2008 5:14 AM
To: 'Wolfe, Kristina (CIV)'; Warden, Andrew (CIV); Subar, Judry (CIV)
Cc: Manning, Susan Baker
Subject: Uighur cases

Dear Kristina, Andrew and Jud:

Our Uighur clients have now been at Guantanamo for about 6 1/2 years. After years of stalling and staying and appellate gamesmanship, you pleaded no contest -- they are not enemy combatants. You have never charged them with any crime. In October a federal judge said they must be freed. They were on freedom's doorstep. The plane was at Gitmo. The stateside Lutheran Refugee services and the Uighur families and the Tallahassee clergy were ready to receive them. You blocked their release by getting an emergency stay from the Court of Appeals. Then by extending the stay. Since then we have done everything we can to try to win that release again and we have failed. And you have positioned this shrewdly. You know it will take many months to get a decision. If we win you will ask for en banc review. And if we win that you will appeal for Supreme Court review. So you know and I know what is happening here. This won't be over in one month, or in six. It will be years.

And you know another thing. No other country is ever going to take them. Not ever. Not after some genius decided, in your overnight stay papers, for the first time ever, anywhere, to call these people "terrorists." That the charge is false, that you have now backed away from it in your brief, that doesn't matter. It will never happen now.

It was never going to happen anyway. State has been trying to resettle this for four years. China has blocked it everywhere. You know it will never happen. If you win your appeal these men will spend the rest of their lives as prisoners at Guantanamo.

So now I am on my way to Gitmo to tell them all of that on Monday.

And I asked for one simple thing of you. I said let me sit down with them together, as men, without them being chained to the floor. And the Defense Department said no.

So I said, let me meet them alone, as we always do. Let me meet them in the hut where we always meet. Station MPs outside that hut, as you always do. Just permit these men one shred of human dignity. Do not chain them to the floor.
And you said no.

Yesterday the court refused to intervene. But it doesn't end there. Because this isn't about courts or who wins a motion. This is really about just who in the hell you people are. What you see when you look in the mirror. Or who your clients are and what they see in the mirror. What kind of Americans treat innocent victims with this kind of reflexive, degrading cruelty? Americans don't treat criminals this way in a federal prison. Americans are not supposed to treat enemy prisoners of war this way under the service field manuals, or the Geneva Conventions, if anyone paid attention to the field manuals or the Geneva Conventions any more. And these people aren't criminals, and they aren't the enemy and you say the department of defense will not comply even with its own service field manuals, or with any basic human decency, and carry on like a bunch of small-minded, panicked little people. As an American, I don't understand that.

And that is what I am asking for you. I am asking you to request of the base commander that he look in the mirror. Tell him I will meet these men alone, one at a time, and I will sit in that hut, and he can station a whole platoon outside to make sure it is only one at a time, and I would like him to show these Uighurs the basic human respect of not having to be chained to the floor. That is my personal request of your client. As one American to another.

And if the base commander will not do that, not even that, then I would like him to meet me and look me in the eye and explain just what in the hell kind of American he is. Because I do not understand it. Whoever the narrow-chested bureaucrat may be who makes these legal decisions sitting in some political office in Washington , however small and un-American that execrable person may be, I am still willing to bet that the base commander is better than that.
I will be there Sunday night.

Thank you.


Imagine if you had devoted your life to the law and were to receive such a letter. What would your reaction have been?

Inside the Bush administration, the reaction was to deny the request. Willett was told that he could not micro-manage the military's security measures over these dangerous prisoners and thus he would have speak to them through a chain link fence or, in smaller groups, with his clients shackled to the floor. Willett asked the DC Court for an emergency motion to grant what the US government denied, and the same DOJ lawyers filed a motion to deny that.

Petitioners have not alleged, let alone demonstrated, that they will be irreparably harmed if the Court were to deny their motion.

True enough, I suppose. The irreparable harm was done during the previous 7 years of illegal detention. What's another year or so of lawlessness among friends?

crossposted at

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