The Past and Future of Guantanamo Bay

Jonathan Hansen is Senior Lecturer on Social Studies and History at Harvard University. Sabin Willett is a partner at Bingham McCutcheon and has represented numerous Guantanamo detainees. On April 1 the historian and the lawyer shared their thoughts on Guantanamo Bay. CR-CL reports.

1. Sabin Willett: Nine Guantanamo detainees have been convicted, and six more trials are underway.

2. What put an end to the worst stuff, the waterboarding, was scrutiny. But what came in its wake was something that is worse in my opinion, but that nobody cared about. And that’s solitary confinement.
At Camp Six, they built a $35M facility. It meant for 23 hours a day you were completely alone.

3. Lecturer Jonathan Hansen: In 2006, there were suicides, and there was an in my opinion problematic Harper’s article saying that these weren’t suicides, that they were murders by the CIA.

4. Willett: My view is that the longer an injustice continues, ironically, the more tolerable it becomes. The public is okay with it. If it’s all right for Obama, how bad can it be? And politicians have figured out you can get elected by being tough on terror. And that’s why it goes on and on.

5. Hansen: 70% of the American people support the prison.

6. There were experts in the military who said that they shouldn’t do it [torture and Guantanamo detention].

7. There was no accountability for the crimes that were going on, and they were crimes.

8. For me, this wasn’t a partisan issue, because there were people in the Bush administration who said don’t do this.

9. Willett: In 2009, Congress passed statutes restricting the President’s ability to take prisoners out of Guantanamo.

10. I saw a list that said that a certain prisoner had returned to the battlefield. That was my client! That surprised me. The guy was Albanian. So I looked into it, and it turned out he had given a very hostile interview to the New York Times.

11. Hansen: The damage that has been done, part of the damage, is that we don’t believe intelligence any more because we’ve seen it evaporate under scrutiny.

12. Willett: I’ll tell you a happy story. I was in Bermuda where four of my former clients live with their wives and kids. Abdallah works for a hotel, and he told me to visit him at the job site. Abdallah was every inch the contractor. He’s fist-bumping the masons and the carpenters. He’s showing me how the 20-year coconut palms are preserved. This guy was in solitary confinement, and he’s coming back to life, and he’s immensely popular. He said he actually enjoyed solitary confinement because he was able to memorize the Koran.

13. The legacy is that 70% of people support this. We like to say we believe in liberty, but really we believe in security.

14. Hansen: The thing that worries me so much is that it is a reaction against expertise in this country. It doesn’t work. If you compare the justice done in the military tribunals in Guantanamo to the justice done in the courts in New York City, it does not work. It does not make us safer. And also we lose all credibility, when other countries are torturing people and acting coercively, we can’t say anything. And it galvanizes our enemies.

15. Willett: Yes, it galvanizes other countries.

16. [The FBI] knows that beating you up doesn’t get good information. But they didn’t have control of Guantanamo, either. It might be that the political classes will have learned from that so they won’t try this silly interrogation facility again, but I don’t think we can look to the public for outrage on this.

17. In South Boston during World War II, there was a POW camp, and they were brought to Mass in church on Sundays. And I have to ask, could this have come out any worse if we had tried this? That may be naïve.

18. Hansen: I don’t think that all Americans care only about security and not liberty. I think in fact that there is [sic] both there all the time.

19. In 1741, Americans were looking at Guantanamo as the Promised Land. It’s on the Windward Passage into the Caribbean. If you wanted to harvest the resources of the breadbasket, you had to control the port of New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. In the 18th century and even a little bit of the 20th century, to control that thing, you had to control the Windward Channel.
It’s a complicated place that has much more to it than the last ten years. One reason the camp was so abusive was because it was constructed on the last camp that was there. It was bad for the camp, it was bad for the guards. There was no infrastructure, no sewers. You all heard about detainees throwing feces on the guard. There was bad policy, bad strategy, there was bad tactics.

20. Willett: (On surveillance of counsel conversations): We always assumed we were being listened to.

21. It took us a year to get a translator, because it had to be someone fluent in Uyghur who was a U.S. citizen with a secret-level clearance. We had to have a Department of Defense minder at our client meetings. You can’t have a private conversation with your client.

22. And it was hard because how was your client supposed to know that you really represented them? The client couldn’t just make a telephone call and check you out.

23. Hansen: In the U.S., we’ve tortured people, but as a tactic, not a strategy. [Historically,] it wasn’t top-down like it was in Guantanamo.

24. Willett: The so-called SuperMax in Colorado is the model for Camp Six. […] There’s an old Supreme Court case that admonishes solitary confinement as an Eighth Amendment violation.

25. When we are comparing someone who has been convicted of the worst crimes with people who didn’t even commit any crimes, we have lost the war.

26. I visited Camp Six, and they told me I was the first lawyer to enter it. The clients referred to it [Camp Six] as the “dungeon above the ground.” And I understood what they meant by that; you felt entombed. I felt a little creeped out after about 8 minutes in there. I wondered if they forgot about me.

This event was sponsored by the Harvard Law School-ACLU.

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Katherine is a 2L at Harvard. Litigation, intellectual property, crime, and privacy interest her. She has interned at the ACLU, the United States Attorney's Office (Criminal Division), the Exoneration Project, and the Small Claims Advisory Service. Her last name rhymes with "Tribeca." Contact her at kwalecka [at] jd15 [dot] law.harvard.edu.

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