The Talking Dog

February 24, 2007, TD Blog Interview with David Rose

Oxford, U.K. based David Rose is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, and has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and the BBC. He was one of the first journalists to have visited the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is the author of Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights. On February 23, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Rose by telephone. What follows are my interview notes as corrected by Mr. Rose.

The Talking Dog Where were you on 11 September, 2001, and on 7 July 2005?

David Rose: On September 11th, I was actually in a remote valley in the North of England in Northumbria, working on a story about an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease that had killed thousands of sheep. The farmer I was talking to got a telephone call telling him to turn on the television. The Farmer and I sat and watched the television, and said to each other “ we can’t talk about sheep now”. We watched as both towers collapsed, and at that point, I drove home to Oxford.

On July 7th, I was at my desk in Oxford at the time of the attacks.

The Talking Dog: Have you had a chance to return to Guantanamo since he publication of your book, Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights?

David Rose: I tried to go to Guantanamo last June (of 2006). I was all set to cover the first military commission trials, when the news broke of the suicides of three detainees. The Pentagon suddenly revoked my clearance. Then, as I was in Washington, I managed to get a new clearance, faxed to my hotel, and we arranged transport by a circuitous route on civilian aircraft via Miami and Kingston, Jamaica, but ultimately, the Defense Department refused to let me in at that time, and I have not been back.

The Talking Dog: Do you have a comment on why, to this day, American detention policy, whether at Guantanamo, Bagram, Kandahar, Iraq, or elsewhere, including the ghost prisons and rendition program, remain a much bigger issue in Europe and outside of the United States than they do inside of the United States?

David Rose: In all fairness, it has become a far bigger issue in the United States since I wrote the book. Of course, John Kerry did not mention this at all when he ran for President– not one mention of Guantanamo. Large numbers of Americans think it is just perfectly fine to hold people this way. They don’t see the broader issues– that Guantanamo and America’s treatment of detainees is virtually a recruiting sergeant for terrorists, and that the policy is misguided ethically and counterproductive in achieving the supposed goals of fighting terrorism.

The Talking Dog: What were your impressions of General Geoffrey Miller, formerly commanding officer at Guantanamo and later at Abu Ghraib, when you met him?

David Rose: General Miller is a forceful, gung ho character to be sure. He was very keen to talk of his achievements, and the achievements of his staff. He is also very scary. He had no background whatsoever in intelligence or in interrogations- he was an artillery officer. In his view, intelligence gathering was a volume business- so many pages of transcripts, as if interrogations were equivalent to hitting targets with artillery rounds. He was very dogmatic, and very difficult to talk to. Quite frightening, actually.

The Talking Dog: Were there any other military or government officials that made an impression on you when you met them at Guantanamo?

David Rose: Two certainly come to mind. One was Louis Louk, then the chief surgeon, who left Guantanamo before the advent of the force-feeding regime. He made a comment about a detainee who wanted to kill himself being “a spoiled brat”. I found that troubling, actually.

The other was the chaplain (not Captain Yee, the Moslem chaplain), but the chief chaplain, a Baptist, I believe, Steve Feehan. He viewed the detainees as second class human beings– which I found quite troubling for a man of the cloth.

The Talking Dog: Do you have a comment on American media coverage of its government’s detention policy?

David Rose: There has been very distinguished reporting in the Washington Post and the New York Times, with the Washington Post probably the best. I have enormous admiration for Jane Mayer and the work she has done in the New Yorker on this. Of course, large swathes of Middle America read nothing about any of this, and certainly, the networks are not covering it. But for various reasons, including early acceptance of governmental statements about holding “terrorists”, many people, including many in the media, have uncritically accepted the government’s explanations.

The Talking Dog: One section of your book is called “The Least Worst Place” and notes that one of the original premises for the selection of Guantanamo as a detention facility was that it was, uniquely perhaps, beyond the jurisdiction of the country it was in, Cuba, and yet still arguably beyond the jurisdiction of the USA, the country that controls it. That fiction seemed to have been previously rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, but now seems to have reemerged in a decision this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Washington. Do you have a comment on that?

David Rose: The Court of Appeals Judgment deferred to the Congress. I’m sure that there is some constitutional authority supporting that. The Supreme Court is in no hurry to hear the case. British jurist Lord Steyn called Guantanamo a legal black hole– and the legal black hole has been dug again. The only way this will change is politically. This Administration has resisted the impact even of adverse decisions of the Supreme Court.

To change this, one would think that a crushing defeat for the Republican Party might help...

The Talking Dog: Haven’t we just had that?

David Rose: Well, a crushing defeat and a Democratic President. Eventually there will be a pendulum change– the values that made the United States unique– the power of its Constitution– will reassert themselves. Enough people will regard Guantanamo with the same shame as the detention of Japanese in World War II... or the Red Scares... We’ll just have to see if and when this happens.

The Talking Dog: At least one of our Congressmen, Jack Murtha, and two of our Senators, Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, who voted for the Military Commissions Act in the first place, now propose to restore the habeas corpus rights withdrawn by that Commissions Act. Do you have any comment on the likelihood of either of these endeavors succeeding, and from your perspective, would either do very much with respect to American credibility on human rights matters as seen from your perspective, and from what you view as European popular opinion?

David Rose: It wasn’t as if people in Congress weren’t told. While what McCain and Graham told everyone they were doing something tremendously progressive, it was quite the opposite. And the Administration got the measures through.

My suspicion is that the President would veto anything in the nature of an attempt to repeal the Military Commissions Act. A real substantive change will probably have to wait until there is a Democratic President. And even there, Hillary Clinton has not been known lately for having a particularly liberal attitude! Perhaps of the other candidates, Edwards or Obama might be likelier to change these policies.

The Talking Dog: Now that Prime Minister Blair has announced a troop reduction timetable of sorts for Iraq, do you see any impact on “the special relationship” between the USA and the UK, specifically with respect to the “war on terror”?

David Rose: There are far more important variables likely to determine that relationship– in part, based on the personality of the next Prime Minister. Right now, the likeliest candidate, Gordon Brown, would represent no big change. He has been a major America-phile. His biggest liability politically may well be his support for the Iraq war! If someone else gets elected Labour leader, then anything is possible. Iraq has certainly become a burden around the neck of Labour– but an alternative candidate could change things.

The Talking Dog: Are you still in contact with former Guantanamo detainees, detainees’ families and others associated with Guantanamo? What can you tell me about that– how are they reacting to the continuation of the American detention policy?

David Rose: I talk to a number of them by telephone and we exchange e-mails. Needless to say, they are outraged. Really, what else can you say?

The Talking Dog: You close your book by observing that Samuel Huntington’s grim prediction of a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam may be coming true, and that in any event, it is advanced by Guantanamo and American detention policy. I had heard it (perhaps incorrectly) suggested that some of those involved in the 7 July 2005 London bombings were “inspired” by, among other things, Guantanamo. You also document a number of abuses that took place of prisoners at Guantanamo. Is there any evidence (for example, I understand that before the Abu Ghraib photographs became public, no American uniformed soldiers– as opposed to contractors– were killed in captivity in Iraq, though after, many have been beheaded or otherwise brutally killed)... is there any evidence that you are aware of that the open-ended detention of these men, besides destroying the thousands of individual lives of the detainees and their families and loved ones, is causing general damage to the supposedly orderly world that the United States is trying to maintain?

David Rose: I certainly don’t know that 7/7's perpetrators were specifically upset by Gitmo. It is certainly part of the background of radicalization. I can’t say there is specific evidence of what you are asking– though for example, the UK hostage in Iraq, Ken Bigley, was wearing a Guantanamo style orange uniform and in a Guantanamo style cage at the time he was murdered on film– the jihadists were certainly sending a symbolic message.

Pentagon officials have said that for every detainee we create 10 or perhaps 100 future terrorists... No question that the detentions have had a radicalizing effect, whether in Britain or in the Middle East. How much, given adding in, for example, American support for Israel (including in the recent conflict with Hezbollah), or for American policy in Iraq... is difficult to say. But Gitmo has cut away the moral high ground for America. The United States used to say “we won’t sink to this... torturing people or detaining them arbitrarily is not what we do under our Constitution. Well, Gitmo was set up to avoid the Constitution. The damage has been pretty big.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else relevant to this subject that I should have asked you but didn’t, or that my readers and the public need to know about these topics?

David Rose: What depresses me most is that this is going on for so long. The mental health of the detainees has deteriorated enormously– without any hope of them ever going home, or even being tried. We don’t think about the impact on individuals– on human beings. It is clear that the toll is enormous for the individuals and their families. One of them [Sami Al Hajj] is an Al Jazeera cameraman with a wife in Doha who I have spoken to... for her, this just drags on and on. And yet, to this day, the Pentagon still spreads the same old lies of “these are all terrorists”... even after five years without proving allegations against any of them, the efforts at demonizing them continue. This has caused an enormous amount of misery at a basic, human level. It is just terrible that this has been going on for so long.

The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking David Rose for that compelling and enlightening interview. Interested readers should take a look at Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights.

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


Hey Pooch:
These interviews are all well and good. But can't you get some interviews with really interesting people, like Britney, Lindsey or Paris?

Posted by Hep Cat at February 27, 2007 2:47 PM

In some categories at the Oscars, members must certify that they have seen all five nominees before voting. One such category is Boring Documentaries. Only 300 members qualified. Effectively nominated Al "Steve Young on Valium" Gore for President. Who ARE these 300 people?

Posted by Hep Cat at February 27, 2007 7:31 PM