The Talking Dog

March 31, 2013, TD Blog Interview with Patricia Bronte

Patricia Bronte is a civil rights attorney in Chicago, and represents two Guantanamo detainees (Musa’ab al Madhwani and Saad al Qahtani). She is also one of the signatories to a recent letter by dozens of habeas lawyers to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, asking for his intervention concerning the recent events at Guantanamo, including a growing hunger strike among detainees. On March 30, 2013, I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Bronte by e-mail exchange.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001, and to the extent you can answer, please tell me where your GTMO-detained client or clients were?

Patricia Bronte: I was at home in Chicago, having just returned from 8 months promoting the rule of law in Azerbaijan. Immediately after the attacks, my inbox was flooded with emails of sympathy and support from my Muslim friends in Azerbaijan.

The Talking Dog: Please identify your present and former GTMO-detained client or clients by name, nationality, and current whereabouts. To the extent you can, please tell me something about each of your clients, such as their age, family status, personality, circumstances of their capture, or anything else you believe of relevance.

Patricia Bronte: I’m attaching profiles of the two clients (Musa’ab al Madhwani and Saad al Qahtani) who are still at GTMO. (One of them was written by my co-counsel Mari Newman.)

The Talking Dog: Please tell me the status of their habeas litigation, be it "habeas petition pending,"petition denied and appeal pending" or whatever else is applicable, and to the extent applicable, if you can identify who the judge or judges involved are and if there is any published decision or decisions of note.

Patricia Bronte: Musa’ab al Madhwani – petition denied by Judge Thomas F. Hogan (see attached decision), appeal denied, Supreme Court certiorari denied, Rule 60(b) motion pending due to evidence withheld by the government.

Saad al Qahtani – petition stayed due to approval for release by Review Task Force.

The Talking Dog:. Can you please tell me the last time you visited your client or clients at Guantanamo, and can you describe the circumstances of your visit. If you could, can you contrast that visit with what you found at earlier visits, including the condition of your client(s), the restrictions on you as counsel and on your clients during your visit, the condition in which you found your clients, and anything else you believe relevant.

Patricia Bronte: I last visited my clients on Dec. 17, 2012. I perceived a deep despair and frustration in them, much deeper than at any time in the 7 years I have represented them. Understandably, they are frustrated that over half the prisoners have been cleared for release for more than 3 years, by unanimous agreement of nation’s top defense, intelligence, security, and law enforcement experts, yet they remain imprisoned. They do not understand why Obama claims to want to close the prison, but he seems unwilling to do anything that would make that happen – and recently closed the office tasked with closing the prison and repatriating or resettling its prisoners. The indefiniteness of their detention has taken a heavy psychological toll on the men. Even a death sentence, or a sentence of life imprisonment, would be better than the current limbo where they are trapped. The restrictions on me as counsel during this latest visit were stricter than ever before, but that issues pales in significance compared to what my clients are enduring.

The Talking Dog:. Can you tell me if your client or clients is or are participating in the present hunger strike, and whether they have participated in prior hunger strikes? Is there anything of relevance viz a viz detainees' grievances, or the military's treatment of the prisoners, or anything else of relevance that you can tell me about that situation, including, if possible, the current condition of your clients, as far as you know?

Patricia Bronte: For reasons unknown to me, I have not been able to speak by telephone with Mr. al Qahtani recently. I do know that my other client, Mr. al Madhwani, is participating in the hunger strike and has lost about 30 pounds. I’m attaching a statement dictated by Mr. al Madhwani on Thursday, March 28.

The Talking Dog:. Can you tell me, in light of the subject of the recent letter you signed on to directed to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, if you have had contact with your client since that time (by phone, mail, etc.), whether you believe the government's recent (increasingly repressive) actions are a pretext by the government, for example, to cut off adverse publicity from GTMO, or perhaps to intercept communications between prisoner and counsel? Why do you think the government relented toward getting the flights reinstated?

Patricia Bronte: I do think the conditions at Guantanamo – particularly the indefinite detention without charge, but also other conditions – and the hunger strike are an embarrassment to the government, and I think the government would prefer that these matters not be reported to the American people. I do not know why the government has taken these extreme actions, or why it relented on the IBC Air flights that carry habeas lawyers and others to the base. Unfortunately, I believe that tension and conflict is inevitable until the government addresses the root cause of the problem: men held for 11+ years without charge and without hope of ever leaving the prison alive.

The Talking Dog: Can you comment on media coverage, in particular, of events at Guantanamo in calendar year 2013, and previously, and in particular, with respect to your own clients and representation?

Patricia Bronte: Until the last week or so, there was very little media coverage of Guantánamo in 2013. That’s not surprising. The President understandably does not want to call attention to his failed promises about Guantánamo – not just his promise to close the prison, but also his orders to implement the unanimous decisions to release half the prisoners, and to conduct periodic reviews of each prisoner’s status. None of that has happened, and the government naturally is not interested in calling attention to that fact. Couple that with the government’s ability to restrict media access to the prison, and the restrictions that govern lawyers’ ability to communicate with their clients and to reveal those communications publicly, and you can see why it is very difficult for the media to cover Guantánamo. The prison at Guantánamo was originally intended to be a legal black hole, and in some ways it is regaining that status.

However, since my co-counsel and I filed an emergency motion on Tuesday because our client had been denied drinkable water for 3 days, the media has expressed renewed interest in the prisoners at Guantánamo. I’m attaching a copy of our motion.

The Talking Dog: We have reached the point where more men have died at Guantanamo (and invariably under suspicious circumstances) than have been "convicted" under the controversial "military commissions," and a number of those "convicted" have actually been released, while the majority held are actually "cleared for release." President Obama has been handily reelected, notwithstanding the utter failure of his "close Guantanamo within one year" promise and evident decision to continue the logical arc of policies he inherited from the Bush/Cheney Administration. Further, Justice Stevens has retired, replaced with Obama's own former solicitor general, who might or might not continue recusing herself from any Guantanamo related litigation. And so, in light of all that, do you have any predictions for Guantanamo, "preventive detention" and related issues for, say, the remainder of Barack Obama's Presidency?

Patricia Bronte: I am probably naïve, but I continue to hope that President Obama will fulfill his Guantánamo promises in his second term. I do not think he wants a series of broken promises to be his legacy. We interned Japanese Americans during World War II, and the Supreme Court actually signed off on that. We now recognize that was a grave injustice, one unworthy of this great nation. I hope President Obama will not want this stain to overshadow the legacy of his presidency.

The Talking Dog:. At over eleven and a half years since 9-11, with OBL dead, GTMO open over 11 years, the "high value detainees" commission trials dragging on, the war in Afghanistan (perhaps) over at the end of next year, do you see any way of getting the American public engaged in these issues, or any possible "public relations" angle that might help alleviate the seeming decision to simply close GTMO by having all of its occupants die there?

Patricia Bronte: When I talk to people, they are often surprised to hear the truth about the 86 prisoners whose repatriation or resettlement is unanimously determined to be in the national security interest. So I don’t think people are unwilling to become engaged; they just are not sufficiently informed of the facts. As for a PR angle, I would think that the American public would be offended that taxpayers continue to spend $70 million per year to incarcerate 86 men whom no one believes should be in Guantánamo.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else that you believe I should have asked but didn't, or that the public needs to know concerning these issues?

Patricia Bronte: The Administration often blames Congress for its failure to fulfill its promises regarding Guantánamo. And it’s true that Congress has not acted responsibly or rationally on Guantánamo issues. But that’s largely because the President and his fellow Democrats have remained silent while Republicans persuaded Americans that the prisoners at Guantánamo really are all vicious terrorists. And in fact, the law in place for the past year and a half has allowed the President to release the 86 men who were approved for release in January 2010, through the national security waiver provisions of the defense authorization act. Not once has the President invoked those waiver provisions. Both the President and the Congress are responsible for the tragedy of the men at Guantánamo.

The Talking Dog: I join all my readers in thanking Ms. Bronte 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 former Guantanamo military commissions prosecutors Morris Davis and Darrel Vandeveld, with former Guantanamo combatant status review tribunal/"OARDEC" officer Stephen Abraham, with attorneys Kristine Huskey, Ellen Lubell, Ramzi Kassem, George Clarke, Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, 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 former Guantanamo military guard Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., 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, with law professor Peter Honigsberg on various aspects of detention policy in the war on terror, with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, with Karen Greenberg, author of The LeastWorst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days, with Charles Gittings of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions, and with Laurel Fletcher, author of "The Guantanamo Effect" documenting the experience of Guantanamo detainees after their release, to be of interest.