The Talking Dog

May 9, 2013, TD Blog Interview with Jan Kitchel

TD Blog Interview with Jan Kitchel

Jan Kitchel is an attorney with the Portland, Oregon firm of Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt. since 2005, he has represented a Moroccan national detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On May 7, 2013, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Kitchel by telephone. What follows are my interview notes, as corrected by Mr. Kitchel.

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 was?

Jan Kitchel: I was at home (in Portland, Oregon), and getting ready for work. According to my client, he was living on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan.

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 your clients, such as their age, family status, personality, circumstances of their capture, or anything else you believe of relevance.

Jan Kitchel: My client is Younous Chekkouri, a Moroccan national. He is in his early 40's. He was picked up in Pakistan in late 2001. He had left Afghanistan, and traveled to Pakistan, where he was arrested by Pakistani police, and we assume that he was given over to American forces in exchange for a cash bounty.

The Talking Dog: Please tell me the status of his 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 involved is and if there is any published decision or decisions of note.

Jan Kitchel: Although Younous has been cleared for release (or "transfer"), his habeas case, as far as I know, is not stayed. I understand that the district court judge (Judge Friedman) still has the case under advisement. The habeas hearing is complete.

The Talking Dog: Can you please tell me the last time you visited your client 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.

Jan Kitchel: I was last in Guantanamo about two summers ago-- and that is the last time I spoke with Younous in person, though I do communicate with him in writing from time to time. He was healthy, and in good physical and mental condition at that time, considering the fact he’s been in prison since 2001.

The Talking Dog: Can you tell me if your client is 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?

Jan Kitchel: That is not something I can comment on.

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, whether you believe the government's recent (increasingly repressive) actions at and involving Guantanamo 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?

Jan Kitchel: My answer to the bulk of this is "I don't really know." As each military administration at Guantanamo changes, new guards and new commanders, entirely unfamiliar with what is actually going on there, are brought in, and initially, given what they are told, they get fearful and try to clamp down. Unfortunately, any change in administration leads to a tendency to do that.

At present it is unknown if the current pressure that has led to the unrest there is coming from any higher than the base commander. I truly don't understand why conditions at Guantanamo have been getting worse under the Obama Administration, but they are. My view on the overall situation is colored by the fact that my client is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet-- he is an easy going man-- religiously devout but by no means zealous or extremist-- just the nicest guy to sit down and talk to. I was very pleased a couple of years ago when he could get out of solitary confinement and into a group living arrangement with more recreation opportunities... I'm very unhappy that it appears that things have changed back in the direction they were in before.

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?

Jan Kitchel: Lots of members of the media have given good coverage of Guantanamo (certainly, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald comes to mind). The overall coverage has decreased over time... Americans are focused on the story of the moment, and attention has flagged over time.

The hunger strike has certainly increased attention to Guantanamo, and put attention and pressure on Obama to get more action going toward his stated goal of closing the institution, or at least taking steps to do so. Obama is largely driven by media attention-- he will talk about issues that he thinks are important to the public. He will certainly be more vocal if attention is focused on an issue-- although, of course, we can't know for sure if he'll actually do anything about it.

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?

Jan Kitchel: There likely will be more terror incidents in the United States "homeland" during the remainder of Barack Obama's presidency. This likely will have a negative impact on civil rights. This washes over into a public antipathy for “going easy” on the perceived enemy. As to Guantanamo, it is really hard to predict. We can assume that some more inmates cleared for release will actually be released at least to their own countries (such as the Yemenis, to Yemen). At the moment, unfortunately, it does not look like there will be a lot of third party countries stepping up accepting transfers of men who are not their own citizens.

The Talking Dog: Can you tell me how your Guantanamo representation has effected you personally, be it professionally, emotionally, spiritually, or any other way you'd like to answer?

Jan Kitchel: I filed my petition for Younous in March of 2005, and if memory serves, I began work on it in January or February of 2005, so it has been a while. Professionally, the representation has had little to no impact, other than expending time and money to do it, as well as to give a few talks on the subject. From an educational standpoint, I have certainly elevated my own consciousness about politics and politicians, the struggle against terror, how our military fits into it and into our society, and I suppose it has made me more cynical than I already was.

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?

Jan Kitchel: What I tell people is that in the United States, everyone is supposed to get a fair trial. If our government locks you up, no matter who you are, you get to have an attorney, due process, appropriate hearings and a fair trial. And if the government has no grounds to keep you locked up, you get released.

Frankly, I've been shocked at how the courts, especially the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, have handled the Guantanamo habeas cases: even when district court judges have ruled in favor of inmates, the D.C. Circuit has blocked any meaningful action toward their actual release from prison. This is dismaying, to say the least.

In the United States now, you don't get a fair trial, and if you win, you don't get justice. This is scary and discouraging.

The Talking Dog: I join all my readers in thanking Mr. Kitchel for that interesting 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 Eric Lewis, Cori Crider, Michael Mone, Matt O'Hara, Carlos Warner, Matthew Melewski, Stewart "Buz" Eisenberg, Patricia Bronte, 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 former military interrogator Matthew Alexander, 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.