I've said many times before that the JAGs are heroes of the post-9/11 military. Here's another extraordinary example of this: the closing argument of an Air Force Major, David J. R. Frakt, in Favor of Dismissal of the Case Against Mohammad Jawad (6/19/2008) in a 'combat status review tribunal' [Note 6/24/08: commentator mremer says below that this was a merits hearing, not a CSRT, and based on this aclu blog post, I think he's right] held at Guantánamo. (Transcript via the ACLU.)
There ought be be a medal for this sort of princpled powerful advocacy in service to the nation. Please read it. I've reprinted the full text below to make it easier. (If you care — I'm not sure how relevant it is under the circumstances — you can learn more about the facts of the Mohamed Jawad case from FreeDetainees.org.)
Update: Here's some background on Major and Professor David Frakt.
Major David J. R. Frakt's Closing Argument in Favor of Dismissal of the Case Against Mohammad Jawad (6/19/2008)
On Feb 7, 2002, President Bush issued an order. The order stated, in pertinent part “I accept the legal conclusion of the Department of Justice and determine that Common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.”
“I determine that the Taliban detainees do not qualify as prisoners of war…al Qaeda detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.”
“Our values as a nation, values that we share with many nations in the world, call for us to treat detainees humanely, including those who are not legally entitled to such treatment… As a matter of policy the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.”
With these fateful and ill-advised words, President Bush, our Commander-in-Chief, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, started the U.S. down a slippery slope, a path that quickly descended, stopping briefly in the dark, Machiavellian world of “the ends justify the means,” before plummeting further into the bleak underworld of barbarism and cruelty, of “anything goes,” of torture. It was a path that led inexorably to the events that brings us here today, the pointless and sadistic treatment of Mohammad Jawad, a suicidal teenager.
President Bush’s words were important, and deserve special attention. For those of us in the military who have faithfully attended our annual Law of Armed Conflict training, or in my case, have given the training many times, the Geneva Conventions and humane treatment were synonymous, they were one and the same. The Geneva Conventions represented the baseline, they embodied the determination of the world to make war a more humane enterprise, to prevent a descent into wholesale barbarity, as had occurred during the Second World War. But now we were being told that humane meant something else, something less, than the Geneva Conventions. And we were being told that we could act inconsistently with the Geneva Conventions, when military necessity demanded it. Those of us who were familiar with the Geneva Conventions, whose job it was to know them, were puzzled and deeply troubled by the President’s order and had serious forebodings about the implications of such a decision. We understood that there were no gaps in Geneva, there were was no one who fell outside their protection, that Common Article 3 applied to everyone.
But the civilian political appointees of this administration intentionally cut out the real experts on the law of armed conflict, the uniformed military lawyers, the JAGs, were out of the loop, for fear that their devotion to the Geneva Conventions might pose an obstacle to their intended course of action. The State Department, led by Colin Powell, tried to raise a red flag, but to no avail. Instead, the administration chose to rely on the infamous torture memos by John Yoo, Robert Delahunty and Jay Bybee. These secret memos attempted to redefine torture for the purpose of providing legal cover for administration officials who approved the use of patently unlawful tactics. These legal opinions, now disgraced, disavowed, and relegated to the scrapheap of history where they belong, laid the groundwork for the wholesale and systematic abuse of detainees which ultimately ensnared my client, Mohammad Jawad.
I’m sure that all of these people, the President included, thought they were doing what was best. But what sometimes appears to be in the interests of America at first glance, upon further reflection reveals itself not to be. Interning Japanese-Americans during World War II perhaps seemed like a good idea at the time, but in hindsight we can see that it was a terrible injustice, inconsistent with American ideals and utterly unconstitutional. It is a shameful episode in our history, a xenophobic overreaction. The conscious, deliberate decision to abandon the Geneva Conventions and the entire fiasco that is Guantanamo will undoubtedly be viewed by historians as an even more disgraceful chapter in our history.
The Feb 7, 2002, order of President Bush invited the rule of law to be circumvented. Even though the President paid lip service to humane treatment, by stating that detainees were not legally entitled to be treated humanely, and by his qualification of “to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity” the implication was clear — it was only policy to be humane, not a legal requirement, and there would be no legal consequences to those who didn’t treat detainees humanely, if there was some military justification for it. Of course, during a “global war,” it is possible to rationalize almost anything under the general rubric of military necessity. After all, if there is even a slight possibility that some military advantage might be gained by some course of action, don’t we owe it to our troops to do it? If there is even a minute chance that some sliver of intelligence might be gleaned about an impending terrorist attack, don’t we owe it to the American people to do everything in our power to extract it? The obvious answer to most of those working in detainee operations at Guantanamo and elsewhere was “Yes.”
Adding to the pervasive atmosphere of lawlessness in the early days of Guantanamo was the administration’s assertion that the detainees could be held indefinitely without charge, without access to counsel, without any recourse to challenge their detention. The administration asserted that the detainees were beyond the reach of any federal court and were not eligible for habeas corpus, a hallowed right guaranteed by the founding fathers of this great country. In effect, the administration created a legal black hole at Guantanamo, a policy universally decried by our even our staunchest allies in the war on terror, but steadfastly defended by the administration.
If there was any doubt that the President intended unlawful tactics to be used, all doubt was erased when Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld authorized, on Dec 2, 2002, numerous extra-legal special interrogation techniques. These techniques and how they were developed and utilized were the subject of hearings before the Senate Armed Service Committee yesterday and are described in detail in the book Torture Team, which I have attached to this motion. I’m sure Phillipe Sands would be honored to have his book included in the record of this commission.
Eventually, cooler and wiser heads started to inject some rationality into the treatment of the Guantanamo detainees. Unsung heroes like Alberto Mora, Navy General Counsel, and Admiral Jane Dalton, and the service TJAGs Gen Rives, Gen Romig, fought vigorously for the restoration of Geneva. But it ultimately took the intervention of the Supreme Court to restore the rule of law to Guantanamo. The Court intervened and made it clear that the Geneva Conventions did apply to detainees at Guantanamo, and that they did have the right to habeas corpus, a right that Congress has twice, unsuccessfully, attempted to take away. This fight to restore the rule of law took time, years in fact, in which the detainees of Guantanamo continued to suffer indignity and inhumanity. It was not until July 2006 when the Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England issued a memorandum stating that “common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention applies as a matter of law“ to the treatment of detainees held by the Department of Defense, and that the “humane treatment [is] the overarching requirement of Common Article 3.” Unfortunately, by then, the damage had already been done, both to the detainees and to the reputation of the United States as a law-abiding country.
America is a nation founded on a reverence for the rule of law. We should never forget that when we take an oath to enlist or be commissioned as an officer in the United States Armed Forces, we do not swear to defend the United States, we swear “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The Oath of Office for the President contains similar words: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Tragically, under the undeniably heavy pressure to defend Americans from terrorist attack, some of our military and civilian leaders lost sight of their obligation to defend the Constitution as well.
Under the Constitution all men are created equal, and all are entitled to be treated with dignity. No one is “undeserving” of humane treatment. It is an unmistakable lesson of history that when one group of people starts to see another group of people as “other” or as “different,” as “undeserving” as “inferior,” ill-treatment inevitably follows. In the Global War on Terror generally and in the detention camps of Guantanamo especially, the detainees were seen as “terrorists,” as “the worst of the worst” something less than human, and were treated accordingly. After six and a half years, we now know the truth about the detainees at Guantanamo: some of them are terrorists, some of them are foot soldiers, and some of them were just innocent people, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the detainees at Guantanamo have one thing in common — with each other, and with us — they are all human beings, and they are all worthy of humane treatment. We should also never forget that no one in Guantanamo has been convicted of a single crime and that even in these deeply flawed military commissions, they are entitled to a presumption of innocence.
Throughout the Global War on Terror we have heard repeatedly from our military and civilian leaders that this was a new kind of war, a war that requires new methods, new ideas, “thinking outside the box.” So that is what the highly creative and motivated people at Guantanamo did, they abandoned the tried and true and lawful methods of Army Field Manual 34-52 and wrote a new playbook, a playbook that included intimidation with dogs, sexual humiliation, and sleep deprivation. These and other methods were employed at Guantanamo and, as the Schlesinger report put it, migrated to Abu Ghraib, where they resulted in the shocking conduct portrayed in the infamous photographs. The Secretary of Defense said “take the gloves off” and the soldiers and sailors of Guantanamo saluted smartly and said, “Yes, Sir!” In fact, many of the illegal and abusive “enhanced” interrogation techniques were personally approved for use by the Secretary of Defense; other techniques, like the frequent flyer program, were simply invented on the fly.
The public revelation of the events at Abu Ghraib on 60 Minutes II in late April 2004, caused the Department of Defense to go into full damage control mode. As part of the damage assessment, Secretary Rumsfeld dispatched the Navy Inspector General, Vice Admiral Church, to Guantanamo to evaluate the treatment of detainees there. He visited Guantanamo from May 5 to May 7, 2004, and reported back to the Secretary and to the press that there was virtually no detainee abuse at Guantanamo, and that everything was in order. Gen Hood was running a tight ship. Detainees received great treatment. Incredibly, the very day that Admiral Church was investigating conditions at Guantanamo and finding the treatment of detainees to be so wonderful, detention officials at Guantanamo ordered the initiation of the frequent flyer program on Mohammad Jawad. Before the wheels of Admiral Church’s plane were even off the Guantanamo runway, Mohammad Jawad’s arms and legs were being shackled in preparation for the first of 112 moves up and down the hall of L Block, every 3 hours for the next 14 days. While Jawad was being shackled for the first of these moves, back on Capitol Hill, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was testifying before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, reassuring the nation that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was isolated to a few rogue guards. When Secretary Rumsfeld testified before the HASC on May 7, 2004, the day the torture of Mohammad Jawad commenced, he told Congress, in reference to those detainees who had been abused at Abu Ghraib, Quote “I am seeking a way to provide appropriate compensation to those detainees who suffered such grievous and brutal abuse and cruelty at the hands of a few members of the U.S. military. It's the right thing to do.” Today, the government takes a decidedly different tack. They deny the suffering of Mr. Jawad, accusing him of being weak. And they are attempting to reward him by pressing forward with the first war crimes trial against a child soldier in the history of the civilized world.
Major General Hood the JTF-GTMO Commander who took command in March 2004, states that he ordered the frequent flyer program stopped in late March 2004. He says he did not authorize and would not have authorized the program to be administered to Mohammad Jawad. Gen James T. Hill, the Southcom Commander, the person to whom Maj Gen Hood reported directly, states that he did not authorize the frequent flyer program, did not know about it, and that is was contrary to his orders which required prior approval for sleep deprivation and limited it to four days. The Joint Detention Group Commander, Maj Gen Cannon disavows any knowledge of Mr. Jawad’s treatment, in fact, MG Cannon seems to have developed a very convenient case of amnesia. The Joint Intelligence Group Director, Esteban Rodriguez, doesn’t know about Jawad’s treatment specifically, but states that there was a second, unauthorized frequent flyer program carried out by the Joint Detention Group used as a form of disciplinary measure. He said, as did Maj Gen Hood, that there was no special effort to collect intelligence from Mr. Jawad, that he was not believed to possess any valuable intelligence. This is borne out by the fact, at least based on the information provided to me by the government, that no interrogations of Mr. Jawad took place at or near the time that he was being tortured. Thus, the most likely scenario is that they simply decided to torture Mr. Jawad for sport, to teach him a lesson, perhaps to make an example of him to others. Whatever the reason, it was a direct violation of MG Hood’s orders, and a grave breach of the Geneva Convention and the Convention against Torture.
According to MG Hood, the first he learned of this is when I informed him a couple of weeks ago. He was provided the DIMS report, the motion, and the spreadsheet that I prepared. What was his reaction? A resounding thud of indifference. In fact, it took an order from you, your honor, to even get him to talk me about it. Here was a Major General in the Army who has just learned that a detainee was subjected to grave abuse, on his watch, in direct violation of his orders. One would have expected him to go through the roof, to order heads to roll, to launch an immediate investigation and he couldn’t even be bothered. Quite a contrast from the way General Hartmann reacted when he thought his orders weren’t being followed.
As for MG Cannon, he was similarly apathetic, if not more so about the plight of Mohammad Jawad. It is an absolute disgrace that this officer has been promoted twice after allowing a suicidal teenager to be subjected to this kind of abuse in his detention facility. It is my recommendation that charges be preferred against MG Cannon under the UCMJ for cruelty, maltreatment and abuse, dereliction of duty, and violation of a lawful order at the earliest opportunity. He was the Commander of the Detention Group. He completely and utterly failed to prevent the flagrant abuse of a detainee under his protection. It is high time that someone in a position of authority be held accountable, and not just the guards who were carrying out orders this time.
Why was Mohammad Jawad tortured? Why did military officials choose a teenage boy who had attempted suicide in his cell less than 5 months earlier to be the subject of this sadistic sleep deprivation experiment? Not that anything would justify such treatment, of course, but at least in the case of the other detainees known to have been subjected to sleep deprivation, they were believed to possess critical intelligence that might save American lives. Unfortunately, we may never know. I’ve asked to speak to the guards who actually carried out the program, and I’ve been denied. In the absence of information to the contrary, which the government would surely provide if it existed, we are left to conclude that it was simply gratuitous cruelty.
The government admits that Mohammad Jawad was treated “improperly,” but offers no remedy. We won’t use any evidence derived from this maltreatment, they say, but they know that there was no evidence derived from it because the government didn’t even bother to interrogate him after they tortured him. Exclusion of non-existent evidence is not a remedy. Dismissal is a severe sanction, but it is the only sanction that might conceivably deter such conduct in the future.
February 7, 2002. America lost a little of its greatness that day. We lost our position as the world’s leading defender of human rights, as the champion of justice and fairness and the rule of law. But it is a testament to the continuing greatness of this nation, that I, a lowly Air Force Reserve Major, can stand here before you today, with the world watching, without fear of retribution, retaliation or reprisal, and speak truth to power. I can call a spade a spade, and I can call torture, torture.
Today, Your Honor, you have an opportunity to restore a bit of America’s lost luster, to bring back some small measure of the greatness that was lost on Feb 7, 2002, to set us back on a path that leads to an America which once again stands at the forefront of the community of nations in the arena of human rights.
Sadly, this military commission has no power to do anything to the enablers of torture such as John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Robert Delahunty, Alberto Gonzales, Douglas Feith, David Addington, William Haynes, Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, for the jurisdiction of military commissions is strictly and carefully limited to foreign war criminals, not the home-grown variety. All you can do is to try to send a message, a clear and unmistakable message that the U.S. really doesn’t torture, and when we do, we own up to it, and we try to make it right.
I have provided you with legal authority for the proposition that you have the power to dismiss these charges. I can’t stand before you and say that you are legally required to do so. But I can say that that it is a moral imperative to do so, and I ask that you do so.