The Talking Dog

October 25, 2007, TD Blog Interview with Angela Campbell

Angela Campbell is a partner at the law firm of Dickey & Campbell in Des Moines, Iowa, and previously served as an attorney with the Office of the Federal Defender in Iowa. Ms. Campbell represented four Afghan nationals previously detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, one of whom was released approximately two weeks ago. On October 12, 2007, I had the privilege of speaking with Ms. Campbell by telephone. My interview notes, as corrected by Ms. Campbell, are below.

The Talking Dog Where were you on 11 September 2001?

Angela Campbell: At the time that the planes crashed, I was in a Boston College Law School Class for Section 1983 prisoners rights. I lived about 6 blocks from where some of the 9-11 terrorists did in Chestnut Hill, Mass.; my brother was in Brooklyn, and watched the towers fall from there. I recall Boston shutting down on 9-11-- no cars, and no airplanes except fighter jets. It is ironic, as it turns out, that at that moment, I was in a class on prisoners rights issues!

The Talking Dog Please identify your clients by name, nationality, and their current location (e.g., "released to Afghanistan", etc.). Please tell me something briefly about your clients, or any impressions they have made upon you, impressions theire family made on you, and, to the extent possible, can you tell me what it is our government accuses them of doing? Please tell me your personal impressions of the people and environment you have encountered at Guantanamo Bay. Also, please tell me your impressions of the people and environment you encountered when you traveled to Afghanistan, and anything else of note about that trip.

Angela Campbell: I represented four clients, all from Afghanistan. I have only met one, as the others were released before I had clearance to meet them at Guantanamo. The only one I have met is Muhilbullah. He was released just two weeks ago, and I assumed has been transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi prison north of Kabul; there are two sections of it, one is run by Afghanistan (from which a number of prisoners were recently executed) and one is operated by the United States. I assume he has been sent to the American side.

The other three prisoners were Sharbat Khan, Ehsan Ulah and Abib Sarajaddin. All three's whereabouts are unknown, though I was notified of their release. They would not know me. Muhibullah says he knew Sarajuddin; other than him, none even knew they had a lawyer, I am guessing that all three were probably released in Afghanistan, as their releases pre-date Pul-e-Charkhi prison.

As to Muhibullah, he was young, he was 19 at the time of his arrest. Other than one Pakistani on a bus, he had never met a non-Afghan before his capture. Before me, he had never met an American not an interrogator, a guard or a soldier. He warmed up to me quickly, telling me that he didn't think I should be involved-- I was too young and shouldn't put myself at risk by representing him-- as it was "too late for him"... he was more concerned for my safety... ultimately, of course, I did not do what he said.

I travelled with three other lawyers to Afghanistan, and a journalist from Harpers... the same trip as Tina Foster. I invited a local t.v. station to go with us back to Afghanistan in December. At this point, we need to know that for Afghans, anyway, those released from Guantanamo are not released- but transferred to another prison run by the United States, albeit a much scarier place for U.S. lawyers to visit... Pul-e-Charkhi is scary, and indeed, it appears that it was chosen precisely to be less accessible to lawyers.

Last time we met with a number of Afghan government officials in the Karzai government. During my time in Afghanistan, I was quite limited in what I could do as a federal public defender, and, given the limitations imposed by my job, stayed in Kabul. Still, everyone there was very nice, and very helpful. While I was warned that as a woman I would have problems in dealing with the prisoners' families, I didn't encounter that at all! They had no problems speaking to me, or trusting me with your relatives' representation. If there is anyone who can distinguish between the actions of citiziens of a country and its government, it's the people oif Afghanistan! They understood that regardless of what the U.S. government did, it did not by any means mean that the people of the United States were behind it. Wherever I went in Kabul-- the hotels, the restaurants, and so forth, the people were great. (I do immigration law, and a number of people asked me how they could come here... the people of Afghanistan certainly don't dislike this country-- they want to come here!) So I was warmly welcomed, if not treated like a movie star.

Besides Tina and myself, the other lawyers were Michael Smith then of Dechert Price and Scott Tilsen a federal defender then from Minnesota (I understand he's since transferred to Kansas).

The Talking Dog Please tell me the status of where your client(s's) legal proceedings ended up, i.e., district court habeas, circuit court Detainee Treatment Act petition, Supreme Court review, etc. as appropriate. Did these proceedings have any significant impact on your other work as a federal defender (and more recently, private practice attorney)?

Angela Campbell: None have legal proceedings still going. All of the first three released were released prior to the Military Commissions Act and its purported barring of habeas, and Muhabillah had filed a habeas petition, and although I was notified that he was supposed to be subject to another Combatant Status Review Tribuna (CSRT), he was scheduled to be released shortly thereafter. Some lawyers felt that a DTA petition might delay their release; I did not file one, as the goal was to get him out as fast as possible. I don't believe it mattered-- who is held and who is released appears to be entirely random, and in any event, unrelated to legal proceedings brought here.

It certainly didn't detract from my other duties; I was the only one in Iowa assigned to this repreesentatnion. I spent work time on it, and it was duly accommodated into my schedule, but I carried the same caseload as any other federal public defender in the office.

The Talking Dog Can talk about some of the recent developments in this area, i,e, (1) Senator Leany's efforts to modify the Military Commissions Act by expressly restoring the right of habeas corpus, (2) the Supreme Court's acceptance of Al-Odah and Boumediene, (3) the Supreme Court "original" habeas petitions brought by George Clark of Baker and McKenzie and, near and dear to my heart, by Candace Gorman, (4) the recent D.C. Circuit decision in Bismullah all but telling the government to reconvene a bunch of do-over CSRTs, and (5) the stunning reversal by the made-up "military commissions appeal" panel that reversed the dismissal of the Khadr and Hamdan cases (and of course the Supreme Court's declining to hear Mr. Hamdan's new petition for review to block those new and improved commisions)...?

Angela Campbell: There are a lot of legal developments and arguments that need to be made, mostly regarding habeas corpus and whether it can be suspended... even though we know the answer-- Article I of the Constitution SAYS we can't suspend it! The Military Commissions Act needs to be overturned oce and for all-- it just needs to happen. In my opinion, that and the Detainee Treatment Act just need to be tossed, period.

None of the cases you're talking about, Bismullah, Hamdan, etc. will result in getting actual guys out of actual custody. We have somehow gone backwards in the law. For a court to decide we can't suspend habeas corpus is nice, but it is outrageous! It doesn't get us anywhere. Prior to George W. Bush it was self-evident that you couldn't do this! And while these legal machinations are playing out, we still have men in custody-- who have been for years-- quite possibly being tortured.

The legal hurdles being erected all involve time and effort to overcome-- we must battle to get back to the legal position that was accepted without question ten years ago. Frankly, it is depressing that we even have to talk about this!

The other problem with these cases is... where will they get us? To get the government to start over? For guys it has already held for six years? Bismullah is particularly troubling-- the D.C. Circuit has told us that lawyers for the defense are entitled to have access to the prosecution's evidence? When did this become AN ISSUE? It is mind-boggling... someone can be charged-- and indeed punished up to and including the death pealty-- without their lawyers having access to, let alone the ability to confront-- the evidence against them? This is ridiculous.

So yes-- these cases are necessary to litigate. But they avoid serious major issues. Such as the complete departure from the rule of law by the United States probably to the point of war crimes committed by its officials, up to and including the President.

The Talking Dog Do you have any you comment on the media coverage (both American and international) of American detention matters, and anything else you believe relevant to these matters?

Angela Campbell: Media coverage is essential to what needs to ultimately happen. In criminal cases in general, we want to avoid the media; we don't want our clients accused of crimes in the media, where their presence will not likely help. With these casese, it is the complete reverse. I'd like everyone of these cases in the news all the time-- all proceedings. I want the press to go interview everyone at GTMO, continuously. Why? Because basically, they will find that there is nothing there. Nothing. In an ordinary criminal case, there is probable cause for an indictment.. at Guantanamo, there is NOTHING. If we could get the coverage we need, a lot would happen.

I myself had gotten some pretty good coverage here in the mid-west. I'm the only one in Iowa; I don't know of anyone in Nebraska; Minnesota has someone. The t.v. stations here will talk to me, gladly.

We also do not necessarily have the same ethnic and religious diversity as other parts of the country, for example. I often run into problems as close as my own family, insofar as people just don't have experience with a Muslim community. This is a hurdle-- but overall, everything seems favorable to what i am doing. If there are negative responses, they don't call me!

I would like the media involved as much as possible in these cases... for one thing, I could show everyone that there is no evidence at all against my client-- not only no classified evidence (everything in my case has been unclassified)... there is nothing at all. People need to see that this is the quality of evidence used to hold people for years-- i.e., nothing at all.

The Talking Dog Can you comment on the various recent apparent assaults (rhetorical and otherwise) on attorneys who have been representing GTMO detainees, and did it effect you in any way?

Angela Campbell: Every time guys like Cully Stimson open their mouth, it helps us. Or Gonzales, Cheney., Bush... everything they say, helps us. They have nothing against most of the GTMO detainees- nothing. So if you have nothing damaging to say about the clients, say it about the lawyers!

As far as allegations of torture that recently came out, I remind people that this is just what I have been telling them has been going on for years. Now the New York Times tells us what we have known.

At this point, I believe we need to have everyone do the same things-- get all of the GTMO lawyers on board taking unified stands-- they can't stop all of us. It is unfortunate that they rely on people to follow their policies who are often 19, 20 year old kids, who don't feel they are in a position to disobey their blatantly illegal orders. But they can...

The Talking Dog Can you comment further on the recent revelations in the New York Times regarding new and improved torture memos from (my former employer) the United States Dept. of Justice, and the unsurprising and credulity-defying White House recantation that "we don't torture"? To the extent you can discuss this (and let me know if you cannot), can you tell me whether and to what extent your clients contend that they have been abused, mistreated or tortured in American custody, including with respect to receiving inadequate medical care?

Angela Campbell: As noted, my comment is "We told you!" How many times? The torture is not the independent acts of rogue interrogators. It is affirmative policy, from the highest reaches of our government. How much evidence do we need of this?

As to my individual client, I have some accounts of mistreatment. When I first met him, we talked for two days. He told me he had little to say about the circumstances of his arerst-- he was unconcious! I spent the first day trying to get him to tell me if he was mistreated- he kept changing the subject saying "I haven't been tortured". Buyt you recognize things-- you ask him about acts he witnessed. But he was fast enough to tell me that "As soon as I tell you, you will write it down, they will know I told you, and they'll bar you from coming back. And there is nothing you-- or anyone can do".

So he told me incidents that happened to others. Such as a prisoner who kept a sugar packet from a meal instead of returning it. What happened? They IRFed him (meaning 5 or 6 military guys came and beat him up). They ripped open his jaw, and he coudln't eat for weeks, and he withered, while my client watched. Or descriptions of treatment when he got there-- the only food given was an orange and a few beans all day; anyone who ate the orange rind was either beaten up, or placed in a freezing room with loud noise and prevented from sleeping.

While in an ordinary prison, they'd look at you funny if you brought a meal for the prisoners, at GTMO, you could... in one case, the guards let me bring him a curry dish... he said "I'm sure its good, but I can't taste food anymore."

The medical care is another issue. He came into American custody because his house was hit in a night air strike; his father took him to the AMericans, forgetting that it was not so good to have worked with the Americans and the Mujahadeen against the Soviets before... because the Americans effectively changed sides against the Mujahadeen! In any event, his father handed him to the U.S. military, saying there were no local doctors, and the military said we can help him. Next contact he receives is a letter from GTMO. he has no idea how long he was in the hospital, but the hosptial left shrapnel in his leg; he has a knee injury from it, and he survived, but he can't walk well and the shrapnel is still in his system. So, no... short answer, is he is not getting medical care.

The Talking Dog Do you see any exit strategy, either in a macro for the whole of American detention policy, just for Guantanamo, and what do you see it as (whether legal, political, or something else)?

Angela Campbell: I've given up on Congress. They talk a good game, and then they go ahead and give power and grants of immunity for the most outrageous illegal and unConstitutional abuses! It is simply not wirthwhile even talking to members of Congress.

A new President would be great-- it doesn't even matter which party... it can't be worse.

What do I hope? That a new Administration at least doesn't blanket this one with pardons, so that some officials in our government can be prosecuted for their role in this. The international community won't or can't-- we need to self-regulate, particularly if we want to maintain our status as a super-power, we will need to behave better as a nation, and demonstrate that we respect the rule of law. Indeed, who even cares where you start? Alberto Gonzales? He would at least have a day in court that he insists on denying to everyone else. He can hire his own lawyers... why don't we start by applying the rules to all.

What I ACTUALLY see happening is... little to nothing. I will say that the tide is slowly, slowly turning. One of my biggest surprises is when my own Mom from Nebraska called me, saying in the '04 election she'd vote for Bush... again! I told her to look at the capital punishment cases in Texas... all she needed to see Bush was not a good guy... she voted for him anyway! Thgen, about two years ago, she called me. and said "I don't think he's a good guy!" If she can come round to that, I think the country is turning its tide, albeit too slowly.

The Talking Dog Is there anything else on these subjects that I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else my readers and the public need to know about these subjects?

Angela Campbell: Your readers are probably more up on this than most people. What the public at large needs to know is that it is not about Guantanamo, or Cuba. Closing that base, by itself, fixes nothing. This won't end. These issues of outrageous executive excess and utter unchecked lawless exertion of power is so much deeper. Guantanamo is not the real problem, though we understand the sentiments of those who say "let's close Guantanamo". On the whole, we need to go back to being a law abiding nation, which doesn't just disappear people in far-flung corners of the world.

The Talking Dog I join all my readers in thanking Ms. Campbell for that eye-opening interview.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys 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, and with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, to be of interest.