Joshua Colangelo-Bryan recently visited Bahrain and met with the father of one of his clients in Guantanamo
Joshua Colangelo-Bryan has been instrumental in representing the interests of the Bahraini nationals still locked up in Guantanamo Bay. He is part of a team that have been working on behalf of those detained from the New York-based law firm, Dorsey and Whitney. The manifest abuses taking place against the detainees on a daily basis and the complete legal vacuum have resulted in his willingness to make sure that these people are treated humanely and given full access to legal recourse. Cageprisoners spoke to him about the current hunger strike and the largely ignored plight of the Bahrainis in Guantanamo.
CAGEPRISONERS: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
JOSHUA COLANGELO-BRYAN: I’m Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a lawyer with Dorsey & Whitney LLP, a law firm that has offices in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.
CP: What prompted your decision to join the legal action on behalf of the Guantanamo detainees, and the Bahraini nationals in particular?
JCB: Initially, it was a matter of principle. The US government had been holding people in Guantanamo Bay for a couple of years without any hearings and was taking the position that it could hold those people without a hearing for the rest of their lives. Also, the government was arguing that the people being held at Guantanamo Bay had no right to be treated humanely. Those propositions struck me as being legally baseless, morally reprehensible and strategically misguided.
At the time that we agreed to become involved in the Guantanamo cases, the family members of the Bahrainis were seeking legal representation for their relatives. Now the representation is more personal because I have spent a lot of time with our clients and their families. I have seen the very thin, and in some cases virtually non-existent accusations against our clients.
CP: Could you tell us a little about each of your clients?
JCB: So as not to take up too much time, I will tell you about a few of them.
Abdulla Al Noaimi is a 23-year old citizen of Bahrain. Abdulla attended Old Dominion University in Virginia during 1999 with his brother. Abdulla withdrew from school and returned to Bahrain before graduating because he was heartbroken over the breakup of a relationship with a girlfriend. Abdulla continued his studies in United Arab Emirates, so that he could be closer to home. Abdulla's favorite author is Charles Dickens and he enjoys Playstation videogames
Adel Kamel Abdulla Haji is a mild-mannered 41-year old from Bahrain. He is married and has a 10-year old daughter. Adel has a degree in accounting and has long worked as an accountant for the Bahraini government. He also is the owner of a small construction business. He has never had any military training.
Jum’ah Al Dossari is 32 and the divorced father of a young girl. Jum’ah has family in both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. He has worked for a number of commercial companies and also as an Imam. He is very personable and maintains a very good sense of humor.
Isa Al Murbati is 40-years old and the married father of five children. His youngest child is 6 and his oldest is 17. Isa always played with his children a lot, taking them to Dairy Queen in Bahrain and playing video games with them.
CP: Can you summise the circumstances of their arrests?
JCB: Each of our clients was arrested in Pakistan – in most cases after approaching Pakistani authorities and asking for assistance in finding the Bahraini embassy.
CP: Could you describe the conditions in which they were held in Afghanistan and what treatment they received there?
JCB: Our clients have shared a lot of information about their experiences in Afghanistan. I will try to summarize what some of them have said.
Jum’ah Al Dossari
Jum’ah Al Dossari was transferred from Pakistan to Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan via airplane by U.S. authorities. On the plane, he was shackled by chains on his thighs, waist and shoulders, with his hands tied behind him. The chains were so tight around his shoulders that he was forced to lean forward at an extreme angle during the entire flight. This caused great pain to Jum’ah’s stomach, where he had had an operation some years before. When Jum’ah complained about the pain, he was hit and kicked in the stomach, causing him to vomit blood.
Upon arriving in Kandahar, Jum’ah and other detainees were put in a row on the ground in a tent. U.S. Marines urinated on the detainees and put cigarettes out on them - Jum’ah has scars that are consistent with those that would be caused by cigarette burns. A U.S. soldier pushed Jum’ah’s head into the ground violently and other soldiers walked on him. Jum’ah lay on the ground for approximately an hour, wearing only a thin pair of overalls he had been given in jail in Pakistan, despite the fact that it was January and the weather was quite cold.
Jum’ah and the other detainees were then tied together by a wire that was placed around their arms, and taken to a tent, which like other tents was open on the sides except for barbed wire. In the tent, Jum’ah was kicked in the head, and hit in the eye with an object that he was not able to identify. A soldier put a boot he was wearing into Jum’ah's mouth. Other detainees received similar treatment.
Jum’ah was then brought to a different location, where pictures were taken of him. At that point, Jum’ah began to offer to do anything requested of him (for example, to admit to being a terrorist, to sign a statement, etc.) in the hopes of preventing further beatings.
The next morning Jum’ah was taken for an interrogation. Prior to arriving at the interrogation room, he was made to walk barefoot over barbed wire and his head was pushed to the ground on broken glass; Jum’ah has scars visible today that he attributes to this experience.
In the interrogation room, Jum’ah told his interrogator that there was no need to beat him because he would sign any statement put in front of him. The interrogator told him that beatings were not permitted. Thereafter, the interrogator left the room and other soldiers arrived. These soldiers carried an electric device of some sort with which they shocked Jum’ah. The soldiers told Jum’ah that they knew he was a terrorist and that he should so confess. A very hot liquid that Jum’ah believes was tea was then poured on Jum’ah’s head. Jum’ah asked for a doctor and, in response, was spat upon by a U.S. soldier who said, “we brought you here to kill you.”
During the subsequent two weeks, Jum’ah was housed in freezing tents. Soldiers would line up Jum’ah and other detainees at night and threaten to shoot anyone who moved. Then, instead of shooting, the soldiers would beat anyone who moved. Because of the cold and being awakened by soldiers, sleep was virtually impossible. One bucket served as a bathroom for all detainees in a given tent.
Jum’ah was interrogated several more times while in Kandahar. During one interrogation, Jum’ah was beaten to the point that he began to cry. His crying seemed to cause the beating to become more intense.
Eventually, Jum’ah vomited blood and then fainted. When Jum’ah regained consciousness, he was lying on the ground with his head under a soldier’s boot. He was returned to the tent by soldiers who cursed the Prophet Mohammed.
Red Cross representatives visited Jum’ah in Afghanistan and were able to observe clear signs of physical abuse on Jum’ah.
There was a pre-existing mosque at the Kandahar Air Base. A cross had been placed on the top of the mosque.
Jum’ah saw Marines using pages of the Koran to shine their boots at Kandahar.
Isa Al Murbati
After being detained in Pakistan, Isa Al Murbati was transferred to U.S. custody in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
One night shortly after being transferred to Kandahar, Isa was shackled to a pole outside in very cold weather. Approximately every hour, U.S. military personnel threw cold water on Isa while he was shackled to the pole. The next morning, Isa was taken to an area that was surrounded by barbed wire and away from other detainees; Isa believes he was taken to this area because the Red Cross visited the main detention areas on certain days. That evening, Isa was shackled again to the pole and water was thrown on him throughout the night again. This pattern persisted for approximately a week.
Isa saw detainees at Kandahar who he estimates were twelve years old. On one occasion, MPs shackled a young detainee’s hands behind his back and forced the detainee onto his stomach. One MP lifted the youth’s hands and another MP lifted the youth’s feet so that the youth was held several feet in the air. The MPs then dropped the youth to the ground.
Isa met an elderly detainee at Kandahar. The detainee said that he was over 100 years old. MPs forcibly shaved this detainee’s beard.
Abdullah Al Noaimi
Pakistani authorities detained Abdullah Al Noaimi in Pakistan in late 2001 and turned him over to the U.S. military. The military transported him to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where they held him for approximately five months. When he first arrived in Kandahar, soldiers led him from the plane, chained his legs together and forced him to walk toward a large tent. As he was walking, the soldiers kicked his legs out from under him, causing him to fall to the ground. As he lay shackled on the ground, the soldiers kicked him and jumped on his back. Although he was blindfolded, Abdullah heard other detainees screaming in pain. He and other detainees were ordered to stand with their backs to the soldiers, who then knocked them to the ground and held guns to their heads.
Once inside the large tent, soldiers cut the clothes off Abdullah’s body and forced him to stand naked in front of male and female U.S. military personnel. An object was put in his rectum. A female MP grabbed and held Abdullah’s penis.
U.S. military personnel interrogated Abdullah about the Taliban and al Qaeda. At one point he was told to say hello to God. Abdullah believed that this meant he was going to be executed.
There were approximately 60 detainees in this large tent. The soldiers forbade the detainees from speaking with each other and forced anyone who broke this rule to kneel outside.
The MPs later moved Abdullah to a smaller tent. One day they carried him from this tent, forced him to lie on the ground and undressed him in front of detainees and U.S. military personnel. The soldiers then shackled him and made him walk naked back to the tent in front of the other detainees and the soldiers.
U.S. military personnel interrogated Abdullah during his incarceration at Kandahar. These interrogations often lasted from midnight until sunrise, and the interrogators threatened to assault Abdullah, called him a liar, blew cigarette smoke in his face and threatened to put cigarettes out on his forehead. Abdullah asked the interrogators to tell him what they wanted him to say. The interrogators responded that Abdullah should say that he had gone to Afghanistan for jihad.
The soldiers subsequently moved Abdullah to another small tent in which there were approximately 20 detainees. The tent was very cold, and often meals consisted of MREs, which in many instances were frozen and impossible to chew. In this tent, the MPs would awaken the detainees several times a night. During a search, an MP punched Abdullah.
After being moved to yet another tent, a large MP named Jeffrey told Abdullah that it had been a long time since he had “kicked Muslim asses.” A female soldier told Abdullah that she was from Virginia, and threatened to kill a family member of Abdullah whom, she had learned, lived in Virginia.
Two other soldiers, Hodges (nicknamed “Boss Hog”) and Harris, who were responsible for providing food to Abdullah, would frequently withhold his food and tell him that he “might get fed next time.” After approximately two weeks of sporadic feeding, Abdullah informed a doctor that he had not been receiving regular meals. Abdullah believes that Hodges and Harris were warned not to withhold meals and to provide more water to him. Hodges and Harris thereafter retaliated by threatening Abdullah and throwing rocks at him.
On one occasion, Abdullah and twenty other detainees were blindfolded and shackled in a row by MPs. The detainees were forced to kneel on the ground. Abdullah heard the MPs’ zippers being unzipped and heard laughter. He then felt liquid on his head. He was unable to determine whether the MPs had urinated on him or had merely pretended to do so. He also witnessed detainees being bitten by dogs in Kandahar.
Abdullah suffered from a urinary tract infection while in Kandahar. When he requested treatment, an MP responded, “quit fucking your buddies.” After several days of having a fever, being unable to eat and vomiting, Abdullah was taken to a clinic. The doctor who examined Abdullah asked an MP if the MP wanted to insert an IV into Abdullah. With both the MP and the doctor laughing, the MP was allowed to perform this medical procedure and caused Abdullah to bleed from his arm.
The doctor returned Abdullah to the tent despite the fact that he remained sick. In the tent, Abdullah lost consciousness and was taken once more to the clinic. There he was told he needed rest, but was returned again to his tent where he and other detainees were repeatedly ordered out of bed and made to go outside to kneel on the ground. Due to his illness it was difficult for Abdullah to kneel, but if he started to lean over the MPs kicked him in the back.
One doctor encouraged Abdullah to eat and provided Gatorade but Abdullah was too ill to eat. The soldiers placed him in a cell by himself, purportedly to prevent his infecting others. His requests to be removed from isolation were denied. Despite having yellow eyes and blood in his urine, the medical staff ignored Abdullah while in isolation.
Abdullah remained in isolation for approximately 50 days. While in isolation, Abdullah told a doctor that he was vomiting at night. The doctor responded, “you’re about to die and there’s nothing we can do for you.”
Adel Kamel Abdulla Haji
Adel was seized in Pakistan in or around December 2001. Pakistani authorities detained him for several days and then transferred him to the custody of U.S. forces; the Americans subsequently told Adel that he had been sold to them by the Pakistanis.
U.S. forces flew Adel to Kandahar. U.S. soldiers beat him in the face and stomach as he was led from the plane at Kandahar.
CP: The Bahraini's were then transferred to Guantanamo. Could you describe their transfer and the conditions of their detention?
JCB: The conditions under which people were transferred to Guantanamo were quite brutal.
For example, Abdullah Al Noaimi was flown to Guantanamo Bay in June 2002. He was handcuffed and shackled for the entire flight. During the trip, he had severe pain in his bladder due to the urinary tract infection. When he complained about the pain, U.S. military personnel laughed at him. He asked for water and was given a cup with a thin straw but an MP pinched the straw so that no water could be drawn from the cup.
The MPs initially refused to allow Abdullah to use the toilet despite the fact that his bladder was burning and he had diarrhea. When they eventually relented, he was not allowed to wipe himself after using the bathroom.
As for Jum’ah Al Dossari, one night, in or around the end of January 2002, military personnel put a very tightly fitting pair of goggles (the lenses of which had been blackened) onto Jum’ah, along with a pair of plastic safety ear muffs (such as those worn by airport personnel). Jum’ah and other detainees were taken to an airplane, the engine of which could be heard despite the ear muffs. Jum’ah was taken inside the airplane and chained to some portion of the airplane’s interior with other detainees. When he complained about the discomfort of being chained in this manner, Jum’ah was hit repeatedly. Eventually, however, he was given pills which induced him to sleep.
After many hours, the plane landed. Jum’ah was dragged off the plane, still chained to other detainees. Jum’ah and the other detainees were put on a second plane. By this point, Jum’ah’s nose was bleeding, which he attributes to the fact that the goggles he was wearing fit so tightly to his face. Jum’ah was again given what he believes were sleeping pills.
The second plane landed in what Jum’ah later discovered to be Cuba. He and the other detainees were made to lie on the ground for hours upon their arrival, still chained together. Jum’ah was then taken to a cement building, where his goggles were finally removed, as was his clothing. Jum’ah was given a cold shower. He was then questioned and photographed. He was also instructed to write to his family, which he did.
CP: From your meetings with your clients, is there, in your opinion, evidence of a policy of religious abuse in Guantanamo?
JCB: Erik Saar, a former military intelligence soldier at Guantanamo, wrote a book about his experiences in Guantanamo and described efforts to interfere with detainee’s religious practices so that the detainees cannot take strength from their faith. Certainly, our clients have had experiences that are consistent with what Saar describes.
For example, when Jum’ah Al Dossari was first transferred to Guantanamo he was kept at Camp X-Ray. When he arrived the detainees were forbidden to pray or even to move within their cells. After several weeks, the detainees were allowed to sit in order to pray. Subsequently, they were allowed to move in order to face Mecca while praying. However, when new detainees arrived, the restrictions on praying and moving were imposed again for various periods of time.
During this initial period in Camp X-Ray, copies of the Koran were sometimes thrown on the floor. On one occasion, a detainee was beaten while praying. This beating sparked a hunger strike.
According to Jum’ah, on or about Christmas 2002, the head of shift banged on detainees’ cells, yelling Merry Christmas and cursing Allah. In response, Jum’ah and other detainees began yelling and Jum’ah then began praying. The head of shift came into Jum’ah’s cell and hit him repeatedly. The head of shift then put Jum’ah’s flip-flops on his Koran.
Once, an interrogator wrapped Jum’ah in Israeli and U.S. flags. Jum’ah was then asked by the interrogator for his opinion regarding the U.S.’s support of Israel. The interrogator told Jum’ah that a holy war was occurring, between the Cross and the Star of David on the one hand, and the Crescent on the other.
According to Jum’ah, there is only one call to prayer per day in Camp 5, despite complaints that have been made to the sergeant on guard and various guard commanders. Otherwise, detainees attempt to estimate appropriate times to pray. On occasion, MPs mimic and ridicule the call to prayer.
At times, Isa Al Murbati has been shackled to the floor in interrogation rooms while songs were played that had Arabic-language lyrics praising Jesus Christ. An interrogator once told Isa that if he “admitted his mistakes” he would be “delivered like Jonah from the whale.”
CP: The Pentagon has implied that if there were incidents where the religious beliefs of the detainees were mocked or that the Quran was desecrated, that these took place in the initial period of their detention alone. What evidence have you heard to the contrary?
JCB: As mentioned, our clients have seen the Koran abused. In fact, Adel Haji gave his Koran back to military personnel just so it wouldn’t be mistreated.
CP: Can you also describe any physical abuse or torture they have experienced?
JCB: Our clients have told us about many examples of physical abuse. One of the most extreme and notorious episodes happened to Jum’ah Al Dossari.
One day in Camp X-Ray, the head of shift, an MP named Webster, pushed Jum’ah to the ground of the cell and cursed at Jum’ah. Jum’ah yelled in response. Webster then told staff sergeant Branch (or Blanche) to bring an IRF (Internal Reaction Force).
A lieutenant arrived and Branch informed him that an IRF had been summoned. Jum’ah was told by the lieutenant to go to his knees. In response, Jum’ah lay on the floor with his hands on his back. When the IRF arrived, a female MP entered with the IRF, even though she was not a member of the IRF. At this time, Jum’ah saw that Branch had a video camera and was filming the scene.
The IRF opened the door to Jum’ah’s cell. An MP named Smith jumped on Jum’ah’s back wearing full riot gear. According to other detainees who viewed this incident, Smith weighed approximately 240 pounds. Jum’ah then felt at least two men holding him by his legs. Smith began to choke Jum’ah with his hands and the female MP repeatedly hit Jum’ah’s head on the floor. Jum’ah lost consciousness.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainees from the United Kingdom later told Jum’ah that the IRF team pulled Jum’ah’s face up for the video camera that Branch held after Jum’ah had lost consciousness. In a written report, these former detainees wrote that Jum’ah was put on a stretcher and his cell was cleaned with water. The report describes Jum’ah’s cell as so covered in blood that the water used to clean it turned red.
According to the report, this episode was captured in its entirety on videotape. The former detainees told Jum’ah that this event occurred on April 27 or 28, 2002. This incident is also addressed in the book that was written by Erik Saar, a former Guantanamo Bay military intelligence soldier, who writes that Jum’ah’s face was “black and blue” and that “the MPs had somehow lost the videotape” of this incident.
Jum’ah later asked Smith why Smith had beaten him. Smith replied, “because I’m Christian.”
A delegation from the Bahrain Interior Ministry visited Jum’ah approximately one month after he had been beaten by the IRF. Jum’ah’s face was still swollen from the beating at the time of this visit. We have been informed that the government of Bahrain made a formal request to the U.S. Department of State to investigate this incident. No response has been made to this request.
After the visit by the delegation from Bahrain, an FBI agent and military officer questioned Jum’ah about what happened. They wrote a report that the military was forced to release pursuant to a court order. In the report, they wrote that Jum’ah had “what appeared to be a recent wound on the bridge of his nose.” Jum’ah has a scar on the bridge of his nose now that he attributes to this beating.
CP: A number of your clients are currently being held in Camp V? Could you elaborate on the conditions therein? What is the purpose of this camp?
JCB: Conditions in Camp 5 appear to be the harshest of any camp in Guantanamo. It seems obvious that Camp 5 has been set up in a way to expose detainees to tremendous physical and mental stress.
Jum’ah Al Dossari was transferred to Camp 5 in or around May 2004. His cell is kept at a very cold temperature through the use of an air conditioner. The light in his cell remains on continuously throughout the day and night. There is an extremely loud fan that runs constantly in the corridor outside Jum’ah’s cell. Jum’ah was told once by the head of shift that interrogators had issued the instruction to keep the fan running. MPs talk loudly and play radios throughout the night, which makes it even more difficult to sleep.
A bleach-based cleaning agent is spread on the floor outside of Jum’ah’s cell. This combined with a lack of ventilation makes breathing difficult at times.
The water from the faucet in Jum’ah’s cell is yellow and has the odor of sewage. On one occasion, Jum’ah saw worms in the water. When he told an MP what had happened, he was told simply, “try again.”
Because Jum’ah is a level one detainee he is allowed to have one bottled water per month.
Many of the meals served in Camp 5 are small and nearly inedible; occasionally, the food is rotten. However, during certain periods, Jum’ah has received Meals-Ready-to-Eat (“MREs”) in the evening, which are a great improvement on the food served otherwise. Based on Jum’ah’s experience and that of other Camp 5 detainees, the meals in Camp 5 are smaller than the meals in other camps.
Jum’ah is allowed to exercise generally for one hour per week (sometimes for only ˝ hour) by himself in a small pen.
Typically, there is only one call to prayer per day in Camp 5, despite complaints that have been made to the sergeant on guard and various guard commanders. Otherwise, detainees attempt to estimate appropriate times to pray. On occasion, MPs mimic and ridicule the call to prayer.
At times, Jum’ah was permitted to have Arabic-language novels in his cell; these novels were given to him by an interrogator. Since early 2005, Jum’ah has not been permitted to have any novels. The only reading materials he is allowed are the Koran, attorney-client letters and family letters, which arrive long after being sent and are heavily redacted.
Isa Murbati has been in Camp 5 since in or around May 2004. Typically, he is allowed an hour of exercise once per week in a very small outside area. However, at times, Isa has been interrogated instead of being allowed to exercise. Also, there have been times when the Red Cross has visited Camp 5 and exercise has not been permitted.
The water from the faucet in Isa’s cell is often yellow. If a white wash cloth is placed under the water when it is running yellow, the wash cloth will turn yellow. Isa receives no bottled water. Generally he is allowed to take one to two showers per week, although on occasion no showers are permitted. Isa rarely receives MREs.
CP: Complicity in abuse at Guantanamo Bay by medical personnel has been documented. Could you describe any such incidents your clients have experienced?
JCB: In late 2003 or so, Jum’ah Al Dossari was transferred to cell number 1 in the India Block of Camp Delta. Jum’ah remained in this cell in isolation for approximately five months. Jum’ah was not permitted to leave the cell during these five months other than for a handful of interrogations and weekly showers.
During the first several months that Jum’ah spent in India Block, he was not given a mattress, blanket or clothes other than shorts. His cell was kept quite cold and Jum’ah would wrap himself in the thin mat he had been given in an attempt to stay warm. After some time, Jum’ah was given pants, but they were taken away after several days. A corpsman told Jum’ah that a doctor had ordered that the pants be taken. In his fourth month in India Block Jum’ah received a t-shirt.
For the first two weeks in the India Block cell, Jum’ah was not provided with any toilet paper. Thereafter, he was given seven squares of toilet paper daily.
During the first few months in India Block, a psychiatrist known as “Dr. P.” visited Jum’ah weekly. During this time, a sergeant told Jum’ah that Dr. P. had ordered that Jum’ah not be given a mattress, additional clothing or toilet paper. Upon learning this, Jum’ah asked Dr. P. for changes to his conditions of confinement. In response, Dr. P. laughed.
Approximately three months after being transferred to India Block, Jum’ah was being interrogated when Dr. P. entered the interrogation room. He told Jum’ah that he was leaving Guantanamo and that he had come to say goodbye. He said to Jum’ah, “I hope you have a terrible life. You’re a big criminal.”
On several occasions, an overweight white man with glasses, who identified himself as a psychiatric doctor (not Dr. P.), interrogated Jum’ah. Jum’ah was told by an interpreter that this man, who was in uniform, was with naval intelligence. Other interrogators, corpsmen and nurses told Jum’ah that this doctor was responsible for determining the manner in which interrogations could be conducted, including with respect to applying pressure to detainees. The doctor had extensive knowledge about Jum’ah’s background and questioned Jum’ah extensively regarding many issues, including Jum’ah’s childhood.
Abdullah Al Noaimi, in the first few days that he was at Guantanamo, was injected with an unknown substance which made him depressed and despondent. He was unable to control his thoughts and his mind raced. He also was unable to control his body and fell to the floor.
On other occasions he was given pills by the medics without being seen by a doctor. The pills caused him to hear voices and he told the interrogators that he felt like he was losing his mind. They responded, “Yeah, we know.”
CP: In what ways have female interrogators or sexual themes been used in the interrogation of your clients?
JCB: In mid-2003, Jum’ah Al Dossari was interrogated by a woman who identified herself as an FBI agent. She told Jum’ah that if he cooperated, she could arrange for him to have sex with interpreters Jum’ah knew named Layla and Alya, or with certain nurses. Jum’ah did not respond.
On another occasion in or around mid-2003, Jum’ah was taken to an interrogation room in the Orange Building in Camp Delta. Adjacent to this interrogation room was a computer room. The door to the computer room was open when Jum’ah was brought into the interrogation room and shackled to the floor. Through the door Jum’ah saw a man and woman who were naked and having sex on a table in the computer room. The MPs who brought Jum’ah into the interrogation room observed this as well although they quickly left after shackling Jum’ah. After several minutes, the man got up from the table and removed a condom that he had been wearing. He gave Jum’ah a “thumbs-up” gesture and asked “good?” The man and woman then dressed and came into the interrogation room. The man showed Jum’ah pictures of people wearing traditional Saudi dress. He asked if Jum’ah could tell him anything about the people in the pictures. He said that if Jum’ah provided any information Jum’ah could have sex with his “girlfriend” and indicated the woman. Jum’ah did not respond and after approximately 30 minutes of further questioning the man and woman left. Jum’ah had never seen these individuals before this incident and has not seen them since.
Abdullah Al Noaimi reports that female MPs often search him and other detainees, touching the detainees’ bodies. Abdullah was escorted to interrogations by a female MP from Unit 94. This MP rubbed Abdullah’s body, put her head on his shoulder and smiled at him suggestively.
CP: Could you tell us about your first impressions of Guantanamo and of your clients?
JCB: We visited first in October 2004, a few weeks after the first attorneys visited. It was impossible to know what to expect, but we did anticipate that our clients would have many questions about our presence in Guantanamo and that they might be in poor physical and psychological condition.
What we found was that, not surprisingly, our clients are each different from each other. Some are very open in describing their experiences while others are more guarded. Some were immediately trusting while others had initial apprehensions. Some want as much information as possible about home while others seem to find hearing about their families to be very painful even when it’s good news. We try to do our best to respect the different preferences and comfort levels of our clients. What all of our clients have in common is several years of horrendous experiences and fear about what their futures hold.
CP: How many times have you visited the camp subsequently? How frequently are you able to visit?
JCB: We are about to take our fourth trip. We try to visit every two to three months, but it is always a matter of receiving permission from the government and coordinating the schedules of lawyers and interpreters.
CP: What restrictions and conditions are imposed by the US administration upon the legal visits?
JCB: There are a series of seemingly arbitrary conditions imposed on lawyers. For example, we are made to stay in housing that is an hour from the detention camps despite the fact that there is alternate housing that is much closer. Lawyers – all of whom are American citizens with FBI security clearances – are not allowed to use the internet at the “public” library even though people from other countries who work at the base and do not have clearance are able to use it.
With respect to actually visiting our clients, we are forced to turn over any notes we make during interview to military personnel as each interview concludes. The notes are only returned at the beginning of the next interview. At the end of the trip, the military takes the notes supposedly to mail them to a secure facility in Virginia where attorneys with clearance can view classified materials. However, all of the notes that I took with one client after our first visit were “lost” after I gave them to the government. For these reasons, we cannot guarantee to our clients that our communications are confidential.
We also are prohibited from discussing certain type of information with our clients and providing certain materials to them. In fact, at the request of Jum’ah Al Dossari who wants to learn English, we sent English children’s books – including Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast – to Guantanamo to be given to Jum’ah. The military refused to give the books to him with no explanation.
CP: What kind of tactics are employed by US personnel to discourage detainees from seeing their lawyers? How do lawyers approach detainees and gain their clients' trust in this situation?
JCB: During the week in which we first met with Jum’ah Al Dossari, interrogators questioned him with respect to the content of his communications with his attorneys. Since that time, Jum’ah has been told by interrogators in military and civilian dress that his lawyers are liars. He has also been interrogated regularly regarding the status of his habeas case as well as his interactions with his attorneys. Interrogators also have told him that they know the substance of his conversations with his attorneys.
Other detainees have related to Jum’ah statements that were made to them regarding their attorneys. For example, Fouad Arabia, a Kuwaiti detainee, was told that if he complained to his lawyers about conditions at Guantanamo Bay he would be kept there for life. Other detainees reported having been told that their attorneys worked for the CIA. One detainee was mocked by an interrogator for signing an acknowledgment of representation form (which is required by the Court) that was in English, a language the detainee does not speak. The interrogator told the detainee that he had signed a statement proving the “charges” against him. The statements of interrogators regarding attorneys have caused general anxiety among certain Camp 5 detainees.
On the last day of a visit with his attorneys in March 2005, a white male interrogator wearing a military uniform came to the cell in Camp Echo where Jum’ah had been held while meeting with his attorneys. The interrogator’s demeanor was angry. He yelled that Jum’ah should forget the torture that he had suffered or he would not be able to live in peace.
Jum’ah has often found his attorney-client privileged papers spread out around his cell following cell searches.
During one interrogation session, Isa Al Murbati told his interrogator that the interrogator should talk to his lawyer. The interrogator told Isa, “do you think your lawyer can bring you home? You are in our control. Your lawyer is nothing and can’t help you.”
Abu Abdulla, a Kuwaiti in Camp 5, reported to Isa that he had been told by an interrogator not to talk to his lawyers because it “would not be good” for him.
CP: What charges and allegations have been leveled against your clients? What evidence is there in support of the view that they are enemy combatants, engaged in terrorist activities? With the legal black hole that is Guantanamo, how can these be effectively challenged?
JCB: The truly remarkable thing is that most of our clients are not even accused of having been involved, in any way, with any violence, be it actual or realized. Rather, they are accused of things like wanting to “fight jihad,” being in Afghanistan, or briefly meeting people who are suspected of being associates of alleged terrorists. Even if true, those accusations do not make someone an enemy combatant. But again, those are just accusations. The evidence to support those accusations is incredibly weak.
We will continue to litigate this case until – hopefully – we reach a point where the court will actually evaluate the accusations and evidence against our clients.
CP: How do MP's and other Guantanamo Bay personnel behave towards the lawyers?
JCB: Most are polite and some are friendly. A few are not particularly helpful or cooperative.
CP: A number of Bahraini nationals have joined the recent hunger strike in Guantanamo? Could you give some background to the strike and comment on the reasons which led to your clients' participation?
JCB: According to Jum’ah Al Dossari, in mid-June 2005, the detainees in the Alpha block of Camp 5 agreed to begin a hunger strike. This plan was communicated to other detainees in Camp 5 and it met with general approval.
On or about June 20 and for the next week, detainees in Alpha block did not eat breakfast. The following week, these detainees refused breakfast and lunch. By the beginning of July most detainees in Camp 5 were refusing all food. Certain detainees who were ill did not participate.
Detainees in Camp Delta learned of the Camp 5 hunger strike and began to participate as well.
The hunger strike was not precipitated by a single specific event, but rather was in response to the conditions under which detainees have lived for over three years. More specifically, detainees wished to protest, among other things:
The fact that they continue to be held without having had fair hearings;
The fact that their religious practices are interfered with. For example, at times in Camp 5 the call to prayer would be started and stopped before completion; MPs would talk loudly during the call to prayer or mimic it;
The fact that detainees are not provided medical care as necessary;
The fact that the food provided to detainees is often rotten and that the tap water in Camp 5 is often yellow and brackish; and
The fact that the military classifies detainees by level based upon putative cooperation with interrogators and uses these classifications to grant a few additional privileges to some detainees.
The message the detainees wished to send was: “Solve these issues or we want to die.”
With respect to detainee classification, toward the end of June, Camp 5 detainees whose classification levels allowed them to have “comfort items,” such as one bottle of water per month, began to refuse those comfort items. These detainees, who are given tan-colored clothing, handed in their clothing except for shorts and asked for orange-colored clothing; detainees deemed to be uncooperative and given the worst classification levels are made to wear orange. The purpose of these actions was to underscore the point that the detainees feel all detainees should be treated equally.
There were also reports that detainees in Camp Delta’s Camp 4 – the most liberal camp in Guantanamo – asked to be moved from that camp so that they would not have special privileges that others did not.
Once the hunger strike began, many detainees required medical care. The small medical room in Camp 5 was overwhelmed and cots were placed in interrogation rooms to accommodate detainees who had passed out. Soon, the detainee medical clinic was full. One guard commander told detainees that five detainees were in critical conditions.
One of our clients was hospitalized as a result of participating in the hunger strike and was still in the hospital during the first day of our July 2005 visit. On the second day of this visit, this client was brought to the interview cells, but could do little other than lie on a sleeping pad because he was so weakened.
CP: Could you comment on your clients' current mental and physical wellbeing?
JCB: In fact, we have significant concerns about the health of our clients in general and a few in particular. Considering that our clients have lived for nearly four years with no or almost no natural light, very little exercise, substandard food and water, and inadequate medical care, it would be impossible for them to be in good physical condition.
Mentally, it’s fair to say that our clients are plagued by hopelessness. The military has told them that it controls their lives and may keep them at Guantanamo forever. Certainly, they worry that the world, including their home country of Bahrain, has forgotten them.
CP: What is your opinion on the current strike?
JCB: We understand that the current hunger strike was undertaken because the military did not fulfill the promises that it made to end the prior hunger strike. As Jum’ah Al Dossari described it, the military believed that a detainee named Shaker, who is a U.K. resident and had been in Camp 5, had instigated the hunger strike. Shaker was removed from Camp 5 and brought to the hospital.
In the hospital, military officers met with Shaker. Shaker presented demands that would have to be met for the hunger strike to end. The officers agreed to the demands.
Shaker and a group of officers then visited the various cell blocks in Camp 5. Shaker told the detainees that they should end the strike and give the military a month to fulfill the promises that had been made. An officer who accompanied Shaker asked the detainees to give the military such a chance. The officer said that international law would be “recognized” at Guantanamo, that a leader could be chosen for each cell block who would have the opportunity to meet with military officials to communicate concerns and that conditions would be improved generally.
In response, the detainees agreed to end the strike. The strike was broken in Camp 5 with meals-ready-to-eat on July 27 at 10:00 pm.
On July 28, all detainees in Camp 5 were classified as level one (the classification level for the most cooperative detainees). In addition, there appeared to be improvements in the food and detainees were given a bottle of water with each meal. Also, there were no disturbances during the call to prayer; even the large, noisy industrial fans that are run outside the cells in Camp 5 were turned off during the call to prayer. Further, whereas three bright fluorescent lights previously had been kept on 24 hours a day in Camp 5 cells, only one small light was kept on in the cells during the hours from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Also, leaders were selected by each cell block.
However, almost immediately thereafter, detainees began to complain that the food had reverted to its former rotten form, indicating that the officer who had made promises had lied. Also, the military did not meet with the detainee representatives as had been promised.
The detainees are protesting, in part, the fact that international law has not been applied to them and that they have been denied fair hearings. Of course, Guantanamo was founded on the idea that international law does not apply there and that the detainees have no rights. That will not change unless a court orders it to change.
CP: What is the reason for the discrepancy between the numbers of detainees who are protesting from the perspective of the military and the lawyers? How many detainees would you estimate are on strike?
JCB: I have not been able to visit Guantanamo since this strike began so have no basis to make an estimate. However, considering that the military insists all detainees are treated humanely while FBI agents and military personnel actually at Guantanamo have described a range of abuses, I take anything the military says with more than a grain of salt.
CP: In light of the strike, some attorneys have sought immediate access to the medical records of their clients? What has been the response?
JCB: To date, the courts have been reluctant to order relief. We asked the government for permission to meet with our clients in the hospital, if necessary, but the request was denied. We are now asking the court for help.
CP: What action do you believe the US administration should take in light of the current hunger strike and the deteriorating health of the prisoners?
JCB: Lawyers for the detainees have been arguing for years that people at Guantanamo need fair hearings and should be treated humanely. After all, even the military says that some detainees are completely innocent. This is still our position and the critical nature of these issues is simply underscored by the hunger strike.
CP: What was the experience of those of your clients who participated in the Combatant Status Review Tribunals?
JCB: Considering that those at the highest levels in the US administration and military had said for years that everyone at Guantanamo was among the “worst of the worst” it was not surprising that the CSRTs did not act as independent, impartial fact finders. Still, even though we had low expectations of the process, some of the reasoning and analysis employed by the CSRTs – even on straightforward factual issues – was notably feeble.
CP: Have you visited the families of your clients? What is their condition and how have they been affected by the detention of their loved ones?
JCB: We have visited with the families of our clients in Bahrain. The family members are, understandably, anguished and frustrated by the potentially indefinite detention of their sons, husbands and fathers. It is particularly difficult because the only way for the family members to communicate with our clients is through the mail, which is very unreliable and also subject to censoring by the U.S. government.
CP: What efforts have you made on the behalf of your clients with regards to petitioning the Bahraini government? What has been their response?
JCB: This past summer we met in Bahrain with members of Parliament, the Shura Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice. We discussed the fact that virtually all western countries that had citizens at Guantanamo have been able to negotiate for the release of their citizens, even when those citizens were accused of very serious crimes. We emphasized that this sort of diplomatic negotiation was the surest way to bring our clients home to Bahrain. We were assured that the government of Bahrain would do everything it could to reach an agreement with the U.S. to have our clients transferred home.
We hope that the transfer agreement recently announced between the US and Kuwait is a sign of good things to come for our clients.
CP: Can you shed some light on the allegation that the US offered to return all 6 Bahrainis to their home country?
JCB: I was told by officials of the Bahrain government that this offer had been made, contingent on Bahrain agreeing to detain our clients after their return. We have made clear to the government of Bahrain that our clients want to be transferred back to Bahrain even if it would entail some period of being in custody in Bahrain.
CP: Do you feel the action taken on the part of the Bahraini and other Arab governments has been sufficient? What more should they be doing?
JCB: We know that to date, governments in Arab countries have not been successful in bringing their citizens home, while governments in Western countries have been, even though many Western detainees were accused of very serious activities.
Perhaps the deal between Kuwait and the US is the beginning of a change in this sense.
CP: What more can be done to highlight their plight, and also the situation of the other detainees?
JCB: The fact and conditions of my clients’ detention need to be addressed publicly as often as possible in as many forums as possible.
CP: What has been the response to your work from the US public?
JCB: Most attorneys I speak with are very supportive especially when they begin to understand the true nature of the government’s position. Some members of the general public are supportive, but too many seem not to care that people who even the military says are innocent continue to be held in Guantanamo.
CP: Do you feel that the increase in numbers of lawyers to Guantanamo has positively affected the nature of the facility in any way?
JCB: There are almost always lawyers at Guantanamo now. These lawyers are able to report on what has happened to their clients, often corroborating the accounts of US personnel at Guantanamo. Because of this presence, I believe that some of the worst physical abuses that had been committed at Guantanamo occur less frequently.
CP: What do you believe will be the long term impact of Guantanamo Bay on relations with the Muslim world and world politics in general?
JCB: I worry that what has happened in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and other places will have a negative effect on the relationship between the US and the rest of the world.
CP: How do you feel representing people who are Muslims and prisoners, in the words of Rumsfeld, "the worst of the worst", when anti-Muslim sentiments are on the rise?
JCB: Considering that the military has already transferred nearly 250 people from Guantanamo it is safe to say that not even Rumsfeld actually considers everyone at Guantanamo to be the worst of the worst in any sense. Again, as an attorney, I am offended by the legal positions taken by the US government. Personally, I find it galling that clients of mine who are not even accused of violence have been held for nearly four years. Those are the feelings that drive my representation.
CP: Could you comment on any differences in the standard of justice received by Arab detainees compared to their European counterparts?
JCB: Virtually all European detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo regardless of what they supposedly did. In contrast, clients like ours remain even when they are accused of almost nothing. Nothing underscores the difference more than that.
CP: In a letter by Juma al Dowsari, recently published, he urges activists to continue their campaigning for their release. Could you elaborate on their present situation and any possible developments?
JCB: Jum’ah is very pleased to know that there are people in the world that still care about him and he wanted to express his gratitude. He very much hopes that people will keep working on behalf of him and his fellow citizens at Guantanamo – as well as on behalf of all detainees.
CP: If and when the Bahraini's are repatriated, can fair and just treatment by the Bahraini authorities be assured?
JCB: As of now, it seems clear that our clients will have a much better chance of being treated fairly in Bahrain.
CP: What is the biggest challenge you face in fighting for the right of detainees at Guantanamo Bay?
JCB: The military has the keys to the jail and ultimate control over the bodies of our clients. We have to fight for everything we get.
CP: Could you comment on the Cageprisoners.com website?
JCB: Guantanamo was designed to be a prison beyond scrutiny. Every effort to disclose what has happened there is crucial and the website has been very helpful in that regard. We know also that it has been a particularly important resource for family members.
CP: Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, thank you for speaking to us.