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Gitmo detainees were exploited for intelligence

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    Gitmo detainees were exploited for intelligence

    Pakistan-based political analyst Ali Kamran Chishti recently interviewed former Guantanamo Bay prison chief prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis.

    Following is the transcript of the talk.

    Ali Kamran Chishti: Tell us about yourself?

    Colonel Morris Davis: I am 51 and grew up in Western Carolina in the US and attended college and law school there. I joined the US Air Force in 1983 and served there for 25 years as an attorney. I was Chief Prosecutor for the Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from September 2005 to October 2007.

    AKC: How many prosecutors worked at Gitmo?

    Colonel: I was head of a multi-agency Prosecution Task Force (PTF) that fluctuated in size over time. When I resigned in October, 2007 there were about 110 people detailed to the PTF on a full or part-time basis including attorneys, paralegals, intelligence analysts, law enforcement agents and support personnel's from the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, CIA, FIA and other federal agencies.

    AKC: So what did you do as chief prosecutor and did you have direct access to detainees?

    Colonel: Probably the best analogy is to the role of a head coach of a sports team. I assigned team members, monitored their progress, provided guidance on the their preparations, ensured they had the resources they needed and made sure everyone understood the rules and followed them. The law enforcement members of PTF (CIA, FBI etc) had more direct access to the detainees. The PTF did have access to the detainees, which was necessary in order to prepare cases for trial and we interviewed many of them in detail. I interviewed directly with the two detainees.

    AKC: Great! So you had the prosecution team at Gitmo but did you have a defense team too?

    Colonel: I believe an ample number of very capable and qualified defense attorney's both military and civilians were and are committed to the defense effort. And I believe they did a fine job of keeping military commission process tied up in litigation in the federal courts for years ending up with the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdam v Rumsfeld in June 2006 that ended the process created by President George Bush created by an executive order.

    AKC: Okay! Now let's talk about the Right's which the Gitmo detainees never had. Apparently, President Bush did not give detainees protection under the Geneva Convention despite, Supreme Court's ruling in "Hamdan v Rumsfed" which actually calls for a "minimal protection" to detainees (article 3 under Geneva Conventions) did people from "inside" disagreed to that?

    Colonel: Yes, people disagreed with Geneva Conventions. If you haven't already you might want to read Karen Greenbrg's book, The Least Worst Place, which chronicles the first 100 days that Gitmo was in operation in early 2002. The military leadership, in absence of any other rules, fell back on their Geneva Convention training and the place operated I pretty humane manner at the outset. All of the Judges Advocate Generals, the senior uniformed attorney's of each of the military services argued for application of the Geneva Conventions. Apparently, it was the civilians like David Addington, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzalez and Jim Haynes - a group referred to as "the big brains" - disagreed and had more clout. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was dissatisfied with the amount of information coming from the detainees and pressed to ratchet up the coercion to squeeze more intelligence from the detainees and the rest is history.

    AKC: What were the legal standards used to put people in Guantanamo? The public has the impression that many innocent people were in there on the basis of rumors or malicious individuals. If no information was gained from them after a year or so, why were they kept for so long?

    Colonel: I don't know the precise process that resulted in most of the detainees going to Gitmo because that pre-dated my involvement in the military commissions. The only detainees sent to Gitmo during my tenure were 15 high value detainees that were transferred from the CIA black sites to DoD detention at Gitmo. Those were approved by President Bush. The customary laws of war permit detention of enemy combatants for the duration of hostilities. That authority is not dependent on whether they do or do not provide information. It is dependent on whether they pose a current or future threat to us or our allies.

    AKC: Sir do you realise off all those years of establishment of Gitmo only three prisoners (David Hicks, Salim Hamdan and Ali Al-Bahlul) were convicted while 420 out of 775 were released without a charge? Why?

    Colonel: Basically Gitmo was more of an "Intelligence Squeezing" center than a Jail.

    AKC: Why were some people put in Guantanamo, others sent to secret detention sites in Europe, and others to Syria, Egypt etc for questioning? And some remained in Bagram, Afghanistan. Are these different categories of prisoners?

    Colonel: Those sent to Gitmo were those believed to have intelligence value. People were not sent there to face prosecution, they were sent there to be exploited for intelligence.

    AKC: Hmm… so who was in charge of the interrogation? or, Intelligence Squeezing Ops?

    Colonel: There is no simple answer. The Department of Defense operated the facility and had primary responsibility for the interrogations through an organisation called the Joint Intelligence Group (JIG). That is not to say the CIA or FBI or a foreign intelligence or local enforcement agency couldn't speak with detainees but the vast majority of the work was done by personnel from the Defense Department. One the other hand, at the CIA black-sites where the high-value detainees were held before they were sent to Gitmo, the CIA had primary responsibility and conducted most of the negotiations.

    AKC: Hang On? Foreign Agencies were allowed access to the detainees?

    Colonel: Yes. I know the Canadian's were allowed to speak to Omar Kadr apart from various intelligence agencies like around the world that had access.

    AKC: Various intelligence agencies like the ISI?

    Colonel: Yes. In fact I had one face-to-face meeting with a very senior (name withheld) official of the ISI. We initially met to discuss the extent to which ISI would assist us, as we got ready for the military commission trials.

    AKC: Military Commissions? Did the ISI agree to this?

    Colonel: Yes. We needed access to people, things and places and ISI could help facilitate the process. The official I met with was very cordial and was more than willing to arrange ISI cooperation. In return they were interested in access to one detainee of Pakistani Origin at Gitmo [name withheld]. I was supposed to travel to Pakistan for a follow-up meeting but our trip was delayed because of unrest in Pakistan. I resigned a few months later, so I never made the trip. I don't know to what extent ISI is cooperating with the persecution now.

    AKC: So are you trying to say and let me get it absolutely spot-on on this one: Yes or No. What you had said is that the ISI or Pakistani Military agreed to help US trial, Pakistani nationals at Military Tribunals without the protection of Geneva Convention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?

    Colonel: Yes, absolutely.

    AKC: And there was no one from the Pakistani civilian government or ever checked up on the Pakistani detainees state of affairs? Or wanted consular access?

    Colonel: Negative. No contact whatsoever.

    AKC: On the violence part: Gitmo has one of the worst human right's record and as you say it was more of a 'intelligence exploitation' centre than a jail, how did intelligence squeezed out?

    Colonel: It was my understanding that Secretary Rumsfeld rolled back his earlier authorisation for enhanced techniques in 2004 after the abuses at Abu Ghraib went public. I never witnessed torture at Gitmo although aggressive techniques were used prior to the time I became chief prosecutor in September, 2005. I know there were some instances where interrogators went too far and crossed the line. Qahtani and Slahi are two examples where the techniques used by the interrogators went too far. Those instances were not anywhere near as common as most people believe. In my estimation, more than 90 percent of the information developed at Gitmo came from interrogators taking the time to develop relationships with detainees, often over burgers, pizza and sub sandwiches rather than using undue pressure to make them talk. In the few cases where interrogators went too far, I instructed the PTF members that we would not use anything the detainees said and instead, we would work to develop cases independent of the coerced statements at trials then how the statement were obtained is irrelevant in the military commissions. Also contrary to popular folklore, no one was ever waterboarded at Gitmo. There were three detainees that were waterboarded and that happened while they were in CIA custody long before they were transferred to Gitmo.

    AKC: How do you define torture? Does it include sleep deprivation? Or other psychological forms of pressure that are not used in normal prisons? Who ordered the torture to start and stop?

    Colonel: I have never tried to define torture. Whether a detainee was tortured focuses on the culpability of those interrogating the detainee and whether they should be prosecuted for their conduct, which is not a military commission matter. My job as chief prosecutor for the military commissions was to prosecute enemy combatants we believe committed war crimes. My sole focus was on whether the information obtained from the detainee was reliable regardless of whether the treatment reached a level where it satisfied the elements of torture under domestic or international law. As for the later part of the question of sanctioning torture: both former president Bush and former vice president Cheney stood by their decision arguing the ends justified the means.

    AKC: Now there were reports of mass-suicides by detainees because of the treatment by interrogators? Your views.

    Colonel: You've linked two facts - there were suicides and there was some abusive treatment by interrogators - to form a conclusion that I believe is incorrect. I was down at Gitmo on June 9, 2006 when the triple suicides occurred. Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the detainees operations at the time was vilified for calling the suicides an act of "asymmetrical warfare". I personally believe Admiral Harris was right to call it what it was. The story that this was a triple homicide followed by an elaborate conspiracy to conceal it makes for good drama but I don't believe the scenario was accurate. When Donald Rumsfeld referred to the detainees in general as the "worst of the worst", the three detainees that killed themselves did not fit the description. They were so insignificant among the detainee population that when I saw the names I had no ideas who they were. At least one of the three had already been cleared for transfer back to his home country since he didn't pose a threat to the US or our allies. None of them had been among the detainees who instigated trouble with the guard force. These were human beings, so I don't mean to disparage them in any way, but among the detainee population as a whole they were nobodies. Recall, too, that at that point in time in June, 2006 we were days away from the Supreme Court announcing its decision in the Hamdan case and President Bush was preparing to announce that he was authorizing the transfer of the high-value detainees from CIA custody at the black sites to DoD detention at Gitmo. In short, the personnel at Gitmo had no reason to arbitrarily murder 3 nobodies; instead they had every reason to be on their best behavior given the historic announcement that were coming from the most senior levels of the US government in the coming days.

    AKC: Do you think Gitmo was an embarrassment to the United States?

    Colonel: It was and clearly is an embarrassment to the United States. As to whether it should have been closed, I suppose that depends on what alternative would have been. If it just meant moving all or most of the detainees to another facility, Bagram for instance, all you've done is create another Gitmo in a new location. I have personally seen a great many jails and prisons in the United States and abroad, and the facilities at Gitmo are far superior. I believe Americans who are currently in prison would gladly trade places if they saw the conditions at Gitmo. The facilities are clean, they are safe, they are not over-crowded, the food is good and the medical care is better than I got when I was in the military. Unfortunately, just the word Guantanamo has become such a stigma that I don't know if it's possible to rehabilitate its image, which alone may warrant its closure.

    AKC: Why did you resign from the post of chief prosecutor of Guantanamo Bay?

    Colonel: I resigned because I did not believe we would provide full, fair and open trial for the detainees we intended to prosecute. There were too many people trying to manipulate the trials and a few people trying to pressure me to use evidence that was unreliable because it was the produce of undue coercion. I couldn't in good conscience be a part of that. I was just one of the many who had the common sense and common decency to recognize that there's a line between right and wrong, and the courage to stand up for what's right. I hope the world will come to see that despite a few bad people in the US government who made bad decisions - decisions that may even be criminal - there were many of us who believed in the sanctity of the rule of law. A year later in October, 2008 I retired from the Air Force. For my final year I served as Director of Air Force Judiciary.

    AKC: Why did Obama Administration decided to sack you from Congress?

    Colonel: I think the opinion pieces I published last November in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post critical of the Obama administration's handing of the Gitmo detainees issue aggravated some in the Obama administration, but I do not believe they instigated my termination at the Library f Congress. The person I was working for had been at the Library for more than 40 years and in my view he is incapable of separating his personal beliefs from his professional duties. He was offended that I had the audacity to publicly express my opinion about Gitmo based on my former role. My boss didn't liked it although Library of Congress has a regulation that at least in print purports to encourage employees to write and speak on topics outside the scope of their official duties. I relied on the rules and my boss fired me. Interestingly, I alienated some in the Bush administration when I resigned as chief prosecutor and spoke out against torture and political meddling in the trials. I then alienated some in the Obama administration when I criticized their waffling on what to do with the Gitmo detainees. Having offended both the ends of the political spectrum, I've hit a spot where I'm now employable.

    AKC: How do you view American Foreign Policy in general and specifically Afghanistan-Pakistan policy?

    Colonel: I give President Obama credit for his efforts to engage with other countries and I'm particularly impressed by Secretary of State Clinton … she has done much better than I ever expected. I never understood the Bush administration's view that talking with others is a sign of weakness. I thought the Bush policy was arrogant and short-sighted. While the current administration has done a good job of reviving international dialogue, I'm waiting to see it followed up with some concrete actions that show we are meaningfully engaged in the community of nations. I'm skeptical of our Af-Pak strategy. Too often we tend to view others through our own lens and often we're shocked when they don't behave as we would. We thought the Iraqis would see us as liberators and they'd embrace democracy and become a Middle East success story. We were shocked that when given a chance for democratic elections the Palestinians elected Hamas. I'm afraid we bring those same biases to our Af-Pak strategy. Nation building in that region has been a largely futile effort for generations. I'm not sure why we think we'll prevail where so many others failed. I also found it ironic that the far right who were so critical of President Bill Clinton for using the military for nation building ended up getting us into two massive nation building endeavors that dwarf anything that ever happened when Clinton was in office. I hope I'm wrong and that by this time next year we are withdrawing forces from Afghanistan and the situation there has gotten a lot better, but I'm doubtful that will happen.

    AKC: Do you see as an Air Force Officer, the effectiveness of drones? And how it is affecting Pakistan?

    Colonel: I don't think there is any question that drones are effective, at least from our perspective. For us they are safe, inexpensive, and can loiter a lot longer than conventional aircraft and provide a better blanket of close air support. It's how we use them that is problematic. I am concerned about the legality of how we're employing them. If a CIA employee operates a drone from a remote site far from the front lines and fires a missile that kills people on the ground in another country, what is the legal status of that employee? Where does he or she fit in the Geneva Convention classification of personnel in an armed conflict? Is he or she a lawful or unlawful combatant? How would we react if the Mexican government pursued a drug cartel member across the US border using a drone and then fired a missile that killed the drug smuggler and some American citizens? It may be a case of where we condone doing ourselves what we'd condemn others for doing … similar to how some view our use of torture compared to torture by others.

    AKC: Thank you so much for the time.

    Colonel: It's always a pleasure, Ali. *
    Last edited by IHM; 01 Jul 10,, 11:32.
    Peace, Peace, Peace

  • #2
    This good Colonel is not aware of the secret agreement between Pakistan and the USA, allowing the drones in South and North Wazirastan? Why is he questioning the legality of drones, when people of the Wazirastan fully endorse the drone strikes against terrorists?
    Peace, Peace, Peace


    • #3
      IHM Reply


      Interesting interview. I'd encourage you to go back into the post and edit a link to the source. That's currently missing. Nearly all our content here really needs such as it adds authenticity.

      Interesting comments at the end about PREDATOR. Denotes the issues were having with military versus civilian contractors operating these systems. Typically, those flown in Pakistan are civilian (C.I.A.) directed and controlled.

      "This aggression will not stand, man!" Jeff Lebowski
      "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." Lester Bangs


      • #4
        Originally posted by S-2 View Post

        Interesting interview. I'd encourage you to go back into the post and edit a link to the source. That's currently missing. Nearly all our content here really needs such as it adds authenticity.

        Interesting comments at the end about PREDATOR. Denotes the issues were having with military versus civilian contractors operating these systems. Typically, those flown in Pakistan are civilian (C.I.A.) directed and controlled.

        Thank you. I added a link before your post, I was aware that in following post, you will ask for the link. :). Sorry, I posted thread in a hurry and therefore, link got missed. I added soon afterwards.

        Peace, Peace, Peace


        • #5
          IHM Reply

          "This good Colonel is not aware of the secret agreement between Pakistan and the USA, allowing the drones in South and North Wazirastan?"

          I imagine he's very aware. The issue he speaks to complicates the combatant status of the trigger-puller and subjects them to possible criminal prosecution.

          "Why is he questioning the legality of drones, when people of the Wazirastan fully endorse the drone strikes against terrorists?"

          He's an attorney. That's what lawyers do.:))
          "This aggression will not stand, man!" Jeff Lebowski
          "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." Lester Bangs


          • #6
            Steve, I just came across a forum of Pukhtuns in which they are strongly criticizing Pakistani Media and Punjabi Leadership that make hue and cry against drone strikes. The Pashtoon writer holds that Drone is not anti-Pashtun but it is anti-Terrorist.

            By Zar ali khan musazai

            Former Pakistani Punjabi Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that he and his party have always opposed US drone attacks on terrorists in Pakistan. This statement further disclosed that Punjabis are averse to drone attacks and love to see terrorists (Arab and Punjabis) on Pashtun soil and to destroy peace in region and Afghanistan in particular. Punjabis political leadership along with military and mullah and Punjabi dominated Media of Pakistan are pro-terrorists and they do not take this important issue serious rather they all like to see Pashtun and Afghanistan in an eternal misery in which we are due to the satanic dreams and acts of the said negative forces. Nawaz Sharif says that in drone attacks the innocent souls are killed. This is 100% incorrect information he has collected from his sources and he is advised to get fresh and correct information regarding terrorism in our Pashtun areas including FATA. Those who give him information about drones should be punished because such incorrect and groundless information will lead him to be a laughing stock in international community which knows better than Nawaz Sharif and his Advisors regarding drones. Nawaz Sharif should try to get himself up to dated about such important information like drones. For the kind information of a Lahore-based Punjabi Politician it is said that drones have neither killed any innocent person nor will do so in future regarding FATA.

            Drone is actually the enemy of terrorists and those who love to see terrorists in FATA. We have said time and again that international community should not discuss our issues with Punjabi politicians and Media as they do not like to see us in peace. Pashtun in general and those living in Waziristan or have migrated from there due to terrorist activities say that only drones are the real treatment of the terrorists. Punjabi dominated Pakistani military is either unable or is reluctant to eliminate terrorists from FATA and to clear the area. For the last 9 years the Pakistan Army is engaged in FATA against terrorists but till this day they are unable to show that they have killed a high profile terrorist there. Absolutely they can not show. And drones can show that they have killed dozens of the terrorists in FATA including Baitullah Mehsud whom Pakistani media in last days of his life termed as pro- American terrorist but the claims of Pakistani media smashed at time when drone attacked him and killed. According to our latest and fresh information obtained form friends and political people that when ever drones are seen hovering in Waziristan our people are satisfied that only terrorists and their friends will be hit hard. But when we see that Pakistani Jet-fighter in air then we are afraid about the casualties of our poor, innocent and hostaged people. Few days back it was claimed by the terrorists in FATA that they had gunned down the drone. Pakistani newspapers reported in morning the other days that tribal people have gunned it down and they were jubilating over the drone incident (If ever has happened so). This is 100% absurd that tribal have done this job. How can the a tribesman do it when he has been standing in long queues to get few kilos of flour to feed his/her children who have been forced to migrate from their native villages and homes in FATA. Tribal are not opposed to drones and they know better than Nawaz Sharif that drone is anti-terrorist weapon not anti- Pashtun.

            (The writer is Chairman Pashtun Democratic Council and can be reached on his email [email protected])

            Last edited by IHM; 01 Jul 10,, 12:30.
            Peace, Peace, Peace