TD Blog Interview with Rebecca Dick

Rebecca Dick is Counsel to the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm of Dechert, LLP. Ms. Dick represents four Afghan nationals currently detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, two more previously detained there but transferred to a prison in Afghanistan, and two more released home to Afghanistan. On June 20, 2008, I had the privilege of interviewing her, by e-mail exchange.
The Talking Dog Where were you on September 11th?
Rebecca Dick: I was at work in law offices on the banks of the Potomac River. We could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon, and I remember thinking, “this means war.”
Because of the traffic jams, many of us stayed at the office for a while. Then, suddenly, we were told to leave immediately. There was a rogue plane and they were going to try to shoot it down over the Potomac. This was the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. The passengers who tried to retake the plane may have saved many lives in Washington.
The Talking Dog Please identify your clients, by name, nationality and current location (e.g. Camp 6, Guantanamo Bay; released to Afghanistan, in custody Afghanistan, etc.) Could you tell us where your clients’ legal cases stand, and if any have been either “cleared for release” or designated for commissions?
Rebecca Dick: My clients are Abdul Haq Wasiq, Ghulam Rohani, Mohammad Nabi Omari, Abdullah Wazir Zadran, Dr. Hafizullah, Abdullah Mujahid Haq, Mohammad Zahir and Mohammad Rahim, all Afghan nationals. None of my clients currently at Guantanamo has been approved to leave. One was approved to leave in July 2005, however, and another was approved in 2006, but neither of these prisoners was sent home until December 2007. Throughout, Afghanistan actively sought the return of its prisoners, so the Defense Department’s usual line — “we’re looking for a country to take them” wasn’t the explanation here.
The Talking Dog What personal impressions of your clients stand out, if any? Anything significant about their cases (such as their purported acts warranting their being in custody, or any allegations of abuse or mistreatment that you can talk about) or anything else that you can tell us about? Anything significant about your observations of Guantanamo Bay itself that you believe worthy of note?
Rebecca Dick: Of my 8 clients, 4 remain at Guantanamo, 2 are still being held in prison in Afghanistan following their transfer from Guantanamo, and 2 are now at home with their families. None of my clients was arrested on the battlefield. Several were arrested in their homes; others were arrested in meetings with U.S. or Afghan officials. None expresses any interest in harming the U.S. Most affirmatively express support for the Karzai government; the others simply do not want to think about or discuss politics. All are from the same region southeast of Kabul.
In other ways, they are quite different from one another — in temperment, education, and interests. One wants news of the Afghan cricket team. One wants scientific articles to read (clearance always denied). Another wants general news of the world (which under the Protective Order governing my access I cannot disclose).
Two of my clients were on the first flight in to Guantanamo and were in the picture of men in orange suits kneeling on the gravel.
The Talking Dog You have been quoted recently observing that the current regime of near total isolation in which most of the Guantanamo detainees are now being held has contributed to a deterioration in their mental health. To what extent have you observed this with your own clients, and what, if anything, has the government said in response when you have raised these issues?
Rebecca Dick: All clients have become more depressed in solitary. One told me, “I look alive, but actually I’m dead.” Some also become somewhat paranoid and at the same time, intellectually paralyzed, unable to make even small decisions. I meet with them every 3-4 months, and each time I see further deterioration.
The government has not responded directly to complaints about solitary confinement. Its public tone has shifted, however, from defending solitary as the only way to handle “the worst of the worst,” to suggesting that the prisoners aren’t really in solitary after all. One official actually said the prisoners are just in “single-occupancy cells.” He neglected to mention that the prisoners don’t get out of these cells very much, and, when they do, don’t always see anyone else who speaks their language.
Camp authorities transferred one client with a spotless behavior record out of solitary and into the dormitory-style camp immediately after I wrote a letter observing that keeping this prisoner in solitary did not create the right incentives for other prisoners to follow the rules. Whether his transfer resulted from my letter, there is no way to know.
The Talking Dog I understand you were also among a group of habeas attorneys that endorsed Sen. Obama for the Presidency; can you comment on why you are supporting him, and specifically, why you believe his Presidency might lead to a more favorable outcome vis a vis Guantanamo?
Rebecca Dick: I support Senator Obama for a number of reasons, and did so even before I knew his position on Guantanamo. The country has suffered a lot of damage in the past eight years. It’s unclear how much of it is reversible, but Senator Obama is facing the problems honestly and has proposed practical ways to try to address them.
As for Guantanamo, I am hopeful that under President Obama, the U.S. will promptly send home the many detainees who are not a threat and who have a country to go to, that the dangerous ones will be prosecuted in accordance with long-established and fair legal procedures, and that by retracting our claims about the “worst of the worst” and making more serious diplomatic efforts, we will find reasonable homes for the stateless prisoners who are not a threat.
The Talking Dog. On that same theme, can you be so bold as to make a general prediction about where you see Guantanamo and American detention policy in the war on terror (we can include Afghanistan, Iraq and God knows where else along with GTMO ) say, one year from today? Do you see an “exit strategy”?
Rebecca Dick: We can begin observing the laws and treaties governing detentions that were in place for decades if not longer before 2001. We should be able to do that within in a year.
The Talking Dog. Can you be so bold as to make a specific prediction, say, one month from today, as to how the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision will change “the facts on the ground”…i.e., more of same, clear the logjam of stayed habeas cases, something else?
Rebecca Dick: I am hopeful that with our resounding victory in Boumediene, the lower courts will be much less willing than they have been to permit the government to throw up roadblocks preventing review of the merits of these cases.
The Talking Dog. What is your impression of media coverage of these war on terror detention issues and Guantanamo in particular? Anything you’d like to see more of vis a vis media coverage?
Rebecca Dick: I would like to see more coverage about individual detainees. The government has largely succeeded in keeping them faceless, making it much easier to demonize them.
The Talking Dog. Do you have a comment on the recent bizarre events taking place at the so-called military commissions, including the sacking of Gen. Hartmann for overreaching, the sacking of Judge Brownback for apparent appearance of fairness, and the sacking of counsel by KSM and his fellow defendants, who, despite residing in total 24-7 isolation were somehow allowed to confer in open court…? Any comment on the commissions in general, and whether you believe the next Administration will (have the good sense to) scrap them?
Rebecca Dick: The Administration created a show-trial process, then labeled it a military commission. There have been military commissions in the past, but they were nothing like these. Until fair standards are adopted, military lawyers of good will — prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges — will continue to create problems for those who want the show to go on.
The Talking Dog. Has your Guantanamo representations effected your regular legal practice? Any fallout of any kind, for example, from last year’s Cully Stimson remarks seemingly intended to invite corporate clients to retaliate against law firms doing Guantanamo habeas work?
Rebecca Dick: No fallout from Mr. Stimson, I’m glad to report.
The Talking Dog. Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn’t, or anything else my readers and the public need to know about these issues?
Rebecca Dick: You’ve been pretty comprehensive.
The Talking Dog I join all my readers in thanking Ms. Dick for that informative interview.
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the “war on terror” may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in “the war on terror”), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing “unlawful combatant” Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, and with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch to be of interest.