The Talking Dog

January 16, 2007, TD Blog Interview with H. Candace Gorman

H. Candace Gorman is an attorney based in Chicago specializing in Civil Rights law (among her credits are a successful argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Jones v. R.R. Donnelly & Sons, a landmark case on the statute of limitations in employment discrimination cases that has even impacted my own legal practice). Ms. Gorman represents two North African nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is the author of the Guantanamo Blog, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. On January 15, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Gorman by telephone. What follows are my interview notes, supplemented extensively by Ms. Gorman's e-mailed comments.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on September 11th" [if you've read enough of my interviews, you will know that I was one block north of the WTC with a south facing view]?

H. Candace Gorman: I was at my office in Chicago, I share office space with my husband (who is not an attorney) my brother and several friends who are attorneys. I was in early that day. My brother was on vacation in Turkey. I checked my email and saw that there was a suicide bomber in Turkey and that several people were dead. I was very nervous and went to look at his itinerary. I determined that he was not near that area and went back to working on whatever I was working on. (This was obviously a few minutes before the first plane hit.) A few minutes later my husband came in the office and asked if I had heard what happened. I told him yes but not to worry because Greg (my brother) wasn’t in that city yet. We then spent several minutes trying to figure out what each of us was talking about. I had a computer that had a t.v. antenna (I got it for the impeachment hearings) and everyone sat in my office in shock watching the events unfold for the next several hours. There was also a time when the fourth plane was still missing and there were concerns it was headed for the Sears Tower. We all talked about what we should do and ultimately decided to do nothing. The Sears Tower is a little less than a mile from my office.

The Talking Dog: How did a nice Chicago-based employment lawyer like you get involved in representing "the worst of the worst"?

H. Candace Gorman: A Chicago area lawyer named Gary Isaacs sent an e-mail around to generate interest in a luncheon and talk on the subject of Guantanamo representations. Although I signed up, I had an illness and missed the meeting, but fortunately, no attendance was taken, and I received a follow-up e-mail thanking me for attending! By October of 2005, I signed up to represent one person who was still not represented-- the purpose of this meeting was, in fact, to find lawyers for the remaining unrepresented detainees so everyone would be represented before the Detainee Treatment Act was passed.
I took on my second client in the spring of 2006. CCR sent out an email asking for help representing the many individuals they filed petitions for at the end of December 2005. They filed on behalf of several hundred detainees, I volunteered to take two clients but the third client turned out to already be represented.

The Talking Dog: Please name your Guantanamo-detained clients and their nationalities and briefly say what (IF ANYTHING) they are alleged to have done and what your impressions are from meeting them.

H. Candace Gorman: Abdul Al-Ghizzawi, Libyan and Razak Ali, Algerian. I will start with the easy one, Razak Ali. He is the client I took on in the spring. I only met with him once and that was this past November. I was given one visit by the judge to determine if he wanted an attorney. He does. I was very concerned with only getting one visit to figure this out as Mr. Ali has been in GTMO for almost five years and wouldn’t know me from an interrogator. I would have liked to have more time for him to get to know me but it worked out ok. I did not use our initial meeting to learn anything about what he is alleged to have done, I wanted him to get to know me. I liked him very much, seems he is a Harry Potter fan. I have read all of the books so we talked a lot about the books. He was lamenting the fact that he has not read book six because the gtmo library didn’t have it in Arabic. A friend of mine found a copy and is sending it to me and I am hoping I can get it to the library at the base. I am going again in a couple of weeks and I hope to learn more about him at this time.

My other client Mr. Al-Ghizzawi is one I have had lots more contact with which is reflected in my many posts at the Huffington Post and on the Guantanamo blog.

I have visited Mr. Al-Ghizzawi three times (and I am planning on returning to Guantanamo in early February). Before I represented him, we exchanged letters, not through the attorney-client privileged system, but just through the mail. He had expressed interest in obtaining counsel, but had no idea who it would be. He had conveyed messages through other detainees to tell their lawyers. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi left Libya in the 1980's ostensibly, he left in the middle of extended military service... He had served a year as part of a mandatory universal conscription in Libya's army, then served another 8 months in the war against Chad, but then the commitment to serve was extended by an additional two years, with no credit given for the 8 months served in the war against Chad... so he left Libya. He went to Pakistan, Yemen, and finally, Afghanistan, where he settled in Jalalabad. Even after all this time at Gitmo, he still has a sense of humor. He speaks English, is now about 45, has a wife and a daughter who will soon turn 6 who he only saw as an infant.
Before going to Afghanistan he tried to get asylum in Britain and the U.S., but was turned down. He recalls seeing a poster at that time in a tourist office inviting lengthy visits to a tropical paradise... which turned out to be Cuba... he didn't apply... but said "Now look where I am?"

The Talking Dog I should note that when Cuba was trying to join the U.N. Human Rights Commission, I pointed out that in that country was a horrible prison where people were kidnapped from all over the world and held without charge or trial... oh wait...

H. Candace Gorman: He ended up in Afghanistan after the Russians left. He, of course, was not allowed to return to Libya because of his military service issue... but he settled in Jalalabad, and opened a spice store and bakery, and married an Afghan woman, before he was picked up for a bounty, and ended up at Guantanamo Bay.

The Talking Dog One of my observations seems to be that in the
arbitrary world of our detention policy, the detainees' nationalities matter a great deal. The Europeans are, of course, out; so are many of the Afghans and Pakistanis... who remain are mostly Saudis, Yemenis and assorted North Africans... and some non-resident nationals of various countries... am I correct that this is a factor for your clients, that their own nations either are not pressuring or are not in a position to pressure the U.S. for their release?

H. Candace Gorman: This is certainly a factor; we have expressed no objections about him being returned to Libya-- and we have made contacts with Libyan authorities who have confirmed that he would not be in trouble in Libya for his military service issues if he were returned. Thus far, however, these have not led to anything approaching his release.

The Talking Dog: How many times you have been to Gitmo, to the "secure documents clean room" in Virginia, and your impressions of those citadels of executive overreach?

H. Candace Gorman: I have been to the base 3 times, and, as noted, I am scheduled to go again the first week in February. I have been to the “secret facility” on one occasion.

Guantanamo is just an amazing place. You fly around Cuba, which is very lush and green. Then Guantanamo is a strip of desert- complete with cactus. The base is divided into two sides. The lawyers are on one side, a ferry ride away from their clients on the other side. The lawyers stay on a side resembling a ghetto-- there is housing for foreign workers, mostly Filipino, who work on the base, including the airfield and the hotel... their housing resembles Chicago area projects. Across the bay is the livelier part of the base, where the military is housed, featuring a McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Starbucks, though despite being a little outpost of the U.S.A., is still depressing in its own right. The base, of course, is huge, and it takes more than an hour to reach one's clients even from the hotel on the base. Since an incident where the military determined I preferred "birdwatching" to seeing my client, I have been given my own personal military escort at the base.

The Talking Dog: Where do your clients' litigations now stand in light of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, in the "Al Odah" constellation of cases?

H. Candace Gorman: I have an appeal pending in Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s case, to try to get his medical records and to get him medical treatment for hepatitis b and tuberculosis. I am planning on filing a motion for summary judgment because of the fact that he was initially found not to be an enemy combatant and was only found to be an enemy after it was sent to Washington for review… I am also planning on filing a petition with the court of appeals under the DTA for the same reasons.

In Mr. Razak Ali’s case I just received an email from the military telling me I can submit info about him by Feb. 23rd for his next ARB (Administrative Review Board). I filed an emergency motion with the judge asking him to order the government to provide a factual return so that I can respond. The government had been refusing to give any part of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) records or charges at all... I hope the judge will grant at least that much relief...

The Talking Dog: Do you intend to withdraw from these representations now that Cully Stimson has urged your corporate CEO clients to boycott you (and Shearman & Sterling, Paul Weiss, Covington & Burling, etc.)?

H. Candace Gorman: First I laughed out loud when I read the question…. But if you can keep a secret from Cully, I don’t have any corporate clients. In fact I am sure corporations would like it if they could boycott me because I sue them and when I win they have to pay me… and yes that is what has allowed me to work on this litigation…

The Talking Dog: Besides your "open letter" to Secretary Stimson, do you have any impressions as to whether this is part of a broader trial balloon strategy by the Bush Administration to intimidate lawyers going into the show trial phase of Guantanamo, i.e., the 14 "high profile" detainees?

H. Candace Gorman: I think this Administration is run by heavy handed people who have and will continue to try everything they can dream up to keep these cases from coming to trial.

The Talking Dog: How much of your practice has been devoted to Gitmo matters, and how are you being compensated for it (if, at all, of course)

H. Candace Gorman: I am not being compensated for any of my GTMO work, and now it has taken over my practice (and my life). At this point, I try to go down every other month... as noted, it is entirely at my expense. Some solace is that Mr. Al-Ghizzami doesn't need a translator, which saves me something... I have tried to work out something with another firm in Chicago to borrow their translator, but it hasn't yet worked out logistically.

The Talking Dog: Has there been any adverse impact on your practice (lost clients, or anything) from your Gitmo representation?

H. Candace Gorman: I have not lost any clients but I have not had time to take on new ones. The impact, which I would not refer to as adverse, is that this is what I spend doing every single day… I try to work my existing cases around this but in truth there is so much on the line in these cases that it overshadows everything else.

The Talking Dog: What brought you to start writing about Gitmo, in the Huffington Post and in the new Guantanamo blog?

H. Candace Gorman: The fact that there are so many people that don’t understand what is going on with Guantanamo. I know I can’t reach everyone but my initial posting, “why I am representing a Guantanamo detainee” was written as an op-ed, I sent it to various papers and no one was interested. I read Huffington regularly and sent it off as a lark… They asked me to write more and I was happy to. I am also doing a monthly column in “In These Times” called diary of a Guantanamo attorney. One Monday I came to work and my law clerk told me he set up a blog. We had never even talked about it but I was ecstatic… probably much to his chagrin… I keep having more and more ideas as to what should be on there.

The Talking Dog: Have journalists expressed interest in your representation and do you have a comment on media coverage?

H. Candace Gorman: What coverage would that be?

The Talking Dog: Do you have an opinion on what will get the public interested enough to get Congress to pressure the Bush Administration to provide some semblance of due process for detainees?

H. Candace Gorman: Education is part of the answer as people learn the truth they are shocked. I did a speech in northern Michigan before the law passed in September. Senator Stabenow ended up voting for the law (I am forgetting the name of the law) I got an email from the local Democratic organization up where I spoke telling me that they cancelled a fund raiser for her because of her vote and they wrote her a scathing letter explaining why. Obviously the people I spoke to learned a lot from my talk and I hope Stabenow learned something too.

The Talking Dog: Do you have any idea of an end game or exit strategy-- i.e., how long will this Gitmo game play out?

H. Candace Gorman: I really thought it would close over the summer, after the Supreme Court ruled and the President said he wanted it closed too. I thought they would move the few to somewhere here and the rest back to wherever… it was the perfect excuse for the President to move them… he said he was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule… But then he didn’t.

The Talking Dog: Any thoughts on where the end game will go as far as the court system?

H. Candace Gorman: I don’t have much confidence in the courts (other than the Supreme Court) doing anything to help these men get their day in court. I think the men will continue to dribble out of Guantanamo. Now there is 395. Next month another 20 or 30 will be gone, and so on….

The Talking Dog: Do you have any thoughts on whether the recent Cindy Sheehan protest will do any good, or if any protests have done any good?

H. Candace Gorman: I am a strong believer in public protests. I am one of the attorneys representing protestors that were arrested in Chicago at the start of the Iraqi war. The case has been dragging on while we wait for the judge to rule on the city’s summary judgment motion, at first I was mad it was taking so long… now I couldn’t be happier. It will be hard to find a jury that will think my clients were wrong in protesting but I couldn’t say the same two years ago. Protests get people thinking and talking, that is always good.

Cindy Sheehan is my hero. She has done more to bring attention to the travesty of the war in Iraq (and now the travesty at Guantanamo) than anyone else.

The Talking Dog: Is there any sense that public attitudes are shifting-- that the public is realizing that with over half of the detainees just summarily released, they are hardly the worst of the worst...

H. Candace Gorman: Those released are presumably "the best of the worst!" Unfortunately, so far, my clients are still in the "middle of the worst". Of course, this isn't really funny... The public attitude is shifting the more it learns... it's not so much a matter of time, as it is about facts slowly accumulating, realizing what is happening.

The Talking Dog: Well at least we're feeding the detainees lemon chicken and rice pilaf...

H. Candace Gorman: Funny you should say that; a couple of detainees have complained that they are gaining weight... they are being fed a high carbohydrate diet of late, which may be a new strategy to fatten them up to make them more complacent prisoners... or at least more lethargic.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else that I should have asked you, or anything else that my readers or the public needs to know about Gitmo, the war on terror, the government's detention policy, or its regard for our Constitution?

H. Candace Gorman: We should all be very concerned about what this Administration is doing. This week the Pentagon announced it is looking at our bank records, not because they think anything criminal is going on but because they can learn stuff…

They are listening to our phone calls and reading our emails… Every day there is something new and illegal that we learn they are doing… it is hard to keep up. Harder still to stop them from breaking the law. But we must.

Finally, the public needs to understand that right now NOTHING is happening with these lawsuits. There is no discovery. Everything is stayed, and has been since before I started in December 2005. For the attorneys (not to mention the detainees), the fact that everything is stayed is frustrating. There has been limited activity- such as the judge ordering the government to produce the CSRT documents for Al Ghizzari... though not medical records that we have been seeking because he is so sick (lung problems, hepatitis B, possible liver cancer)... one of the judges involved, Judge Reggie Walton, has the Scooter Libby trial coming up... so he won't have much time to focus on these cases.

The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking Ms. Gorman for that informative interview and for being so generous with her time.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys 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 detainee Shafiq Rasul , 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, and with author and geographer Trevor Paglen on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, to be of interest.


Kudos to Ms. Gorman for her work.

Posted by Kudo King at January 17, 2007 12:16 PM

She likes protest politics! Another reason to like her.

Posted by eRobin at January 20, 2007 9:55 PM