US Lawyers Defend Prisoners at Guantanamo

She said she was terrified the first day at Guantanamo when she was to go into the cell of Benyam Mohamed.  Yvonne Bradley said that she had been in the cell with convicted serial killers and rapists and had never been afraid, but Rumsfeld had announced that these were the “worst of the worst.”  An officer in the JAG corps, she had believed him.  She had accepted the assignment to defend Mr. Mohamed and she was going to do it, but she was terrified.

Not after she met him and began to know him.  This assignment was to be a great awakening for her of how the government whose constitution she had sworn to protect and defend was lying to her and to the world.

Pictured above speaking to the press,  Colonel Yvonne Bradley is one of the military and civilian lawyers who have been to Guantanamo and met people incarcerated there, people who were turned over to the US occupation forces by bounty hunters, people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but who are in no way harmful to the US.

Since these prisoners are forbidden to speak, Mark Denbeaux, another lawyer, senior faculty member of Seton Hall law school and the Director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research, pictured below, organized the compilation of their stories through the words of the lawyers who were finally allowed to represent them in a book called The Guantanamo Lawyers to which Yvonne contributed.

Both Mark and Yvonne spoke about their experiences and the book in New York’s Revolution Books on West 26th Street on Thursday, January 27, 2010.  It was a chilling experience to hear them.

Yvonne, who had joined the Air Force as a lawyer just after finishing law school, spoke movingly of the pride she had always felt about the military courts in which she began her career, courts where she found the best traditions of US justice upheld.  After active duty, she had worked in criminal courts with convicted persons, those murderers and such.  As a member of the air force reserves, she was called upon to represent Binyam Muhamed.

She soon learned that her client, an Ethiopian native who had lived in England and traveled to Pakistan, had been “rendered” by the US to Morocco and tortured physically, kept in US sites in Afghanistan in solitary confinement for weeks on end, shackled, with blaring sounds and music, in total darkness and interrogated repeated about Al Qaeda.  The ACLU collected biographical data which you can read here. 

Eventually, though no evidence was ever discovered to link him to any group that had ever threatened or done harm to the US, he was sent to Guantanamo, where even later Yvonne was sent to defend him in the Military Commissions established under the Bush regime and authorized by the Congress.

Yvonne was appalled by the Commissions, which in her opinion were intended to summarily find the prisoners guilty and condemn them.  She remembered her pride in military courts and she was horrified.

She said that she wrote and submitted a nineteen page document to the chairman of the commission, who had reprimanded her for everything from the expression on her face to the clothes Mr. Mohamed chose to wear: his orange jumpsuit.  Since no photographers were permitted, this drawing shows her with him at the commission.

She told a harrowing tale of fearing that she was about to be court marshalled herself, risking loss of an upcoming promotion to full colonel as well as the rest of her career, if not worse.  She could not, however, agree to defend her client in that environment.

The commissioner called for a two hour recess, she recounted, during which she fully expected him to be drawing up the documents for legal action against her.  To her surprise, he came back and agreed to look at her petition. Ultimately, he made concessions that allowed her to represent Mr. Mohamed, who was eventually released and returned to England without charges ever having been made against him in February of 2009.

Yvonne related that she was later led to believe that the Pentagon had been listening in to the proceedings and that the recess allowed the Commissioner to speak with them.  There was justifiable concern that the story of a military lawyer arrested for trying to defend one of the prisoners would have been front page news in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the LA Times.  Rather than risk that, the commissioner was instructed to read her petition.

An interesting side effect of the obvious hostility of the commissioner to Yvonne and her willingness to take big risks on his behalf finally persuaded Mr. Mohamed that she might really be trying to help him.  After being tortured and abused by people in uniform as she was and others in civilian clothes for many years, he did not trust her.  Even after this day, she reported that he was often wary, as indeed he had every right to be.

Mark Denbeaux, the Seton Hall law professor who represented Guantanamo prisoners, has been equally horrified by the Military Commissions that violated US and international law and were clearly destined to make short work of all the prisoners.  Since writing the book, he and his son, also a lawyer, and students from the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research have provided evidence that supports the article by Scott Horton in Harpers titled The Guantanamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle.  The evidence provided by guards rules suicide out entirely.  Were the prisoners murdered outright or tortured to death?  It appears that one of these must be the case.

Mark has worked tirelessly not only to defend his clients who were also imprisoned and tortured without evidence of their ever being a threat, but to provide information to the world of the truth about the Guantanamo torture camp and its prisoners.

Both Yvonne and Mark spoke of the consistently degrading mental and physical health of their clients.  In answer to a question about prisoners being tortured to insanity, they responded that they had fears of that.  Also, Yvonee said that though the physical torture of Mr. Mohamed was terrible, he found being shackled in complete darkness with loud noises that went on continuously for days and weeks worse. The torture in US custody was far worse on his mind and body than the cruder kind of physical torture used in Morocco.  The cutting of his genitals in Morocco would come to an end; the dark and the noise in US prisons was unrelenting.

It was both a privilege to hear these two courageous and principled US lawyers and a dreadful thing to hear them.  I knew before that the US tortures people, many of them innocent, though torture is illegal by both US laws and international laws.  The Geneva Conventions say that even humiliating a prisoner is against international law.  I received a much more vivid and detailed picture of what it means that the US tortures.

The change in regime in the US has not meant an end of the torture.  In fact, the new regime continues to write orders for torture and illegal imprisonment.  I understood Yvonne to suggest that the solution to Guantanamo is to shut it down and let all the prisoners free, allowing those who chose to to come to the US.  This was the closest I heard her say to a statement that there are no grounds for holding any of the prisoners at the torture camp.  I was glad that she holds this opinion, which I have advocated with no direct personal knowledge, of course, but from the fact that charges have not been made against the prisoners and the Military Commissions were deemed necessary in the first place.

I cannot stop my efforts to end US torture.

NOTE, FEBRUARY 10, 2009

Here is a link to an story in today’s Guardian about evidence of Mr. Mohamed’s torture at the hands of the US with knowledge and complicity of the UK government as well.

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6 Responses to “US Lawyers Defend Prisoners at Guantanamo”

  1. Dance For Peace » Blog Archive » Tarek Baada: Another Desperate Hunger Striker Says:

    […] Two allegations of this kind were made about  Baada and he denies both of them.  Worthington reports, “an unknown source claimed that he ‘was considered an important man and somebody who was loyal to a senior al-Qaeda member,’ and in the second he was allegedly ‘identified as someone who was close to a high-level al-Qaeda facilitator,’ and that, despite every suggestion to the contrary, he ‘received money and supplies from the facilitator in order to travel to Afghanistan.”’ Colonel Yvonne Bradley, who represented Binyam Muhamed and risked her own career to do so, said that she found the procedures at Guantanamo to be clearly intended to find the prisoners guilty and condemn them, a travesty of US military justice that she could not condone nor participate in. […]

  2. Dance For Peace Says:

    […] money and supplies from the facilitator in order to travel to Afghanistan.”’ Colonel Yvonne Bradley, who represented Binyam Muhamed and risked her own career to do so, said that she found theprocedures at Guantanamo to be clearly intended to find the prisoners guilty and condemn them, a travesty of US military justice that she could not condone nor participate in. […]

  3. Dance For Peace » Blog Archive » Close Guantánamo End Torture Says:

    […] Binyam Mohamed, said by his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith to have endured “unspeakable tortures”, known to have have his genitals cut, to have been beaten, hung from the cieling, chained to the floor, subjected to extreme cold and noise.  Released when charges were dismissed, having been based on statements made during torture.  Read here the story of his American military lawyer, Col. Yvonne Bradley, and what she learned about the prisoners at Guantánamo and about her country through her experience. […]

  4. Dance For Peace » Blog Archive » Real People Are in Guantánamo Torture Camp Says:

    […] Worthington himself was present for the event and will go to Washington.  Also present was lawyer and author Scott Horton who exposed last year many facts about the deaths of three prisoners at Guantánamo that had been reported by the US government as suicides.  The evidence provided by guards at the torture camp rule that possibility out all together.  His article The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle in Harper’s Magazine of March 20, 2010 was cited earlier on this blog here and here. […]

  5. Dance For Peace » Blog Archive » Detaining a Cook Indefinitely?!? Says:

    […] The outrage at the injustice to her client reminded me of that of Colonel Yvonne Bradley, another military lawyer who represented prisoners at the US torture camp at Guantanamo Bay.   Colonel Bradley, who had joined the Air Force as a lawyer just after finishing law school, spoke movingly of the pride she had always felt about the military courts in which she began her career, courts where she found the best traditions of US justice upheld.  She said they were not perfect, as indeed few human institutions are perfect, but she had always felt good about the work she did and the system in which she worked. […]

  6. No War No Torture » Blog Archive » THE US MADE NO ATTEMPT TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS AFGHAN CITIZEN Says:

    […] The military commissions, which Obama has reinstated despite promises while running for office not to, appear by no less an authority than Colonel Yvonne Bradley, military lawyer who defended some of the prisoners at Guantanamo, designed to find the prisoners guilty and keep them incarcerated at Guantánamo.  The prisoners say that as well, as you can see from the story of Mohammed Nabi Omari and others in this series. […]

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