Reports Shine Light on Legal Chaos at Gitmo

April 16, 2013

by Jeremy Leaming

President Obama promised but failed to shutter the Guantánamo Bay military prison and has refused to launch an investigation into the use of torture at the prison and other unknown or “black sites.” But groups like Human Rights Watch and many others, including inmates at the prison, strive to highlight the injustices and atrocities of the prison, rendition and military commissions.

It’s not an easy endeavor in a nation where polls suggest that many people are not terribly concerned about the rights of people who the American government has labeled terrorist suspects. In a piece for The New York Times op-ed page that garnered notice, Samir Najl al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo for more than 10 years, explained his reasons for going on a hunger strike. He’s never been charged with a crime, he has been left to languish in a dark hole, where prison officials brutally force-feed him. “The situation is desperate now,” he writes. “All of the detainees are suffering deeply. At least 40 people are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.”

It has been widely documented that military detainees have been tortured at Guantánamo and other unknown or “black” sites overseas, with the knowledge of top administration officials in the administration of George W. Bush. In 2011, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting evidence that top Bush administration officials, including the president, approved of torture. (Office of Legal Counsel memoranda were eventually made public reveling the lengths attorneys took to justify torture.) The Constitution Project, as reported by The New York Times’ Scott Shane, has released an exhaustive report, more like a book, that adds “considerable detail” to the treatment of military detainees. See the group’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment.

Another report from Seton Hall School of Law provides more evidence that the Guantánamo military tribunals are a sham.

In “Spying on Attorneys at Gitmo,” the Seton Hall School of Law’s Center for Policy & Research, details a system of “surveillance and recording” devices in “designated attorney-client meeting rooms at the military prison.”

Law Professor Mark Denbeaux, director of the law school’s policy and research center, said government surveillance of conversations between attorneys and military detainees greatly undermines the already wobbly legitimacy of the military commissions.

Denbeaux said in a statement about the report, “It is now clear that the government has secretly implanted surveillance equipment in the meeting rooms that has spying capacities that are inexplicable unless being utilized to eavesdrop on confidential attorney client communications. The court must determine the extent to which such communications have been penetrated: if the government spying allows the government to know an attorney’s defense before trial, the proceeding ceases to be a trail and is reduced to a farce.”

The Seton Hall report concludes that lawyers for the military prisoners “can no longer assure their clients that the government is not listening to their conversations or reading or recording the attorneys’ written notes.”

The report documents that:

Listening devices in the attorney-client meeting rooms are disguised as smoke detectors.

The listening devices are so hypersensitive that they can detect even whispers between attorneys and their clients.

Cameras in the attorney-client meeting rooms are so powerful that they can read attorneys’ handwritten notes and other confidential documents.

The cameras can be operated secretly from a location outside of the room.

The attorney-client meeting rooms turn out to have been the former CIA interrogation facility.

Importantly, the CIA recording equipment was upgraded after the CIA left.

In post, “Obama’s Gitmo Disgrace,” Andrew Sullivan highlighting the Seton Hall report, writes, “Under those conditions, how can there be even a semblance of a fair trial? And if you were subjected to such a farce, and knew that you were being prevented from ever leaving prison where you were wrongfully detained in the first place, would you go on hunger strike? You’ve been captured by military forces with no charges, taken to a torture camp, hooded and shackled, beaten and tortured, and now – even when found innocent – kept in the same black hole of indefinite detention. Yes, I’d go on hunger strike.”