The Talking Dog

February 28, 2015, TD Blog Interview with Nancy Hollander

Nancy Hollander is a partner at the law firm of Freedman, Boyd, Hollander, Goldberg, Urias & Ward in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her practice is largely devoted to criminal cases, including those involving national security issues. She has also been counsel in numerous civil cases, forfeitures and administrative hearings, and has argued and won a case involving religious freedom in the United States Supreme Court. Ms. Hollander also served as a consultant to the defense in a high profile terrorism case in Ireland, has assisted counsel in other international cases and represents two prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. On February 28, 2015, I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Hollander by e-mail exchange.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?

Nancy Hollander: I was in Albuquerque getting dressed to go to work and watching the news. I saw the first one and the second one. I went to work but we spent the day watching TV and calling everyone we knew in NYC to make sure they were o.k.. I did not appreciate at the time just how much the world had changed.

The Talking Dog: Please identify your Guantanamo clients, by name, nationality and current whereabouts (since, if I understand correctly, both are still detained at GTMO, the particular location there, if you can disclose it), and please tell us something about each of them (family, personality, anything you believe relevant of that nature?). To the extent you can publicly talk about it, can you tell me where their respective habeas litigations now stand procedurally, and since at least one has something to do with the on-again, apparently really, really off-again, military commissions, where those stand with your client(s)? And can you comment on the recent decision to shut down the commissions pending review of the decision to force the tribunal members to remain in Cuba, and if you can comment about any effect on the scheduling of Mr. Nashiri's commission trial?

Nancy Hollander: I represent two prisoners. Abd Rahim Al-Nashiri and Mohamedou Ould Slahi. I started representing Mohamedou in 2005 and Abd Rahim in 2008.

Mohamedou won his habeas case in 2010 but the government appealed and the court of appeals remanded for a re-do under its newer, looser evidentiary and legal standards. This was part of a concerted effort by the Obama Administration to make it far more difficult for anyone to actually prevail in a habeas case. His case has stalled now for four years with no action from the district court. Mohamedou is a citizen of Mauritania. He won a scholarship to study in Germany as a young man and completed his degree in engineering there in the mid 1990’s. In approximately 1990, he went to Afghanistan to fight against the communist-controlled government. He trained at an AQ camp but when he left, he never had anything else to do with AQ. As you know, the U.S. supported the Afghans at that time with millions of dollars in guns and money. The federal judge who heard his case recognized that this was not the AQ that attacked us in 2001. Unfortunately the Justice Department and its client, the military, have tagged Mohamedou with “joining AQ” and that is where they hang their hat. At one point they accused him of being part of the Millennium Plot and later of recruiting for 9/11 but they did not have evidence for either so all they have is that he is still “part of AQ.” Much of this stems also from his cousin, Abu Hafs Al-Mauritani, who was reportedly a spiritual advisor to OBL. Abu Hafs, however is said (in the 9/11 Report) to have opposed the 9/11 action. It is now known that shortly after that he went to Iran, where he was under a sort of house arrest until 2012, when he was returned to Mauritania. After a short jail stay he was released and is now a free man---after talking to the FBI. How they can let him out and keep Mohamedou in is a mystery.

I have several co-counsel in the case---Theresa Duncan in Albuquerque, who has been with me since the beginning when she was an associate in my firm. She now has her own firm. Hina Shamsi and Jonathan Hafetz joined in 2009 when Jonathan was with the ACLU. He is now a law professor at Seton Hall and Hina is the National Security Director at the ACLU. Both still work on the case. Sometime later, Art Spitzer from the ACLU in D.C. joined us. And Linda Moreno from Tampa also joined in 2009. We all work pro bono and pay our own expenses.

Abd Rahim is charged in the military commission with being the “mastermind” of the USS Cole, etc. from 2002. He is facing the death penalty. The ACLU John Adams Project supports me in this representation. I work primarily as a consultant to the trial team at the commission. I find and prepare experts and do other tasks. I also represent the client in his habeas which is in the midst of appeals. And I represent him in one case before the European Court of Human rights. We just won that case but I cannot say much about it. Yesterday the government rescinded the order to transfer the judges to GTMO so who knows what will happen next. We should find out on Monday. I cannot talk about how or where they live. Suffice to say, they are imprisoned.

Abd Rahim has a team of civilian and military lawyers, led by Rick Kammen.

The Talking Dog: How did you come to represent the Guantanamo clients? Also... how did you come to represent Chelsea Manning? Can you draw parallels to their respective treatment-- the draconian terms of incarcerations of all of them seemingly serves little purpose other than to avoid embarrassment to the government of Barack "no drama" Obama, for example... can you comment on the parallels between the matter of "state secrets" in the war on terror and war on whistleblowers, and now, apparently, American life in general?

Nancy Hollander: A lawyer I know in France asked me to represent Mohamedou and the ACLU asked me to represent Abd Rahim. I was part of the first legal team to see both. Chelsea wrote to me and asked me to represent her on appeal. My law partner, Vincent Ward is co-counsel and she also has military detailed counsel who work with us. Our work for Chelsea is supported by the ChelseaManning support group at and Courage to Resist. The parallel I can draw is that evidence that embarrasses the government should not be classified. But the government has classified everything the prisoners in Guantanamo say and I believe that is to prevent us knowing about their torture. And in Chelsea’s case we know that she provided information about human rights violations the government did not want to share. This is wrong. A government that has secrets like this (as opposed to true sources and methods that can be classified) is not consistent with a free society. We have to know what our government is doing, including what might embarrass it. President Obama should have closed Guantanamo when he said he would. He should have tried those for which his government had probable cause and released the rest. Remember that President Bush released 500 people! President Obama also should have begun investigations into the prosecutions of the torturers. We know who they are. The treaties we have signed require that they be prosecuted if there is probable cause to do so. But the Administration has stepped in to stop even the civil lawsuits on “state secret” grounds over and over. This is reprehensible.

The Talking Dog: Can you tell me the last time you saw your clients, particularly Mr. Slahi, and is there anything you can tell us of your observation of them (healthy, unhealthy, aging, thinning...) and if there isn't, can you tell us if you are now actively litigating conditions of their confinement in their habeas cases, or elsewhere?

Nancy Hollander: We take turns visiting Mohamedou and try to do so approximately every two months. I saw him in the Fall, Teri, in January and Linda most recently. I will see him again in April. He is certainly healthier now than earlier, both physically and mentally but there is a fragility to him. He was so badly tortured that he will need the support and love of his family to adjust when he gets out---although I believe that ultimately he will be ok. He has great strength. I cannot talk about the conditions of confinement here.

The Talking Dog: Turning to your client Mohamedou Ould Slahi (or "Salahi" in court papers), I understand that his unusual, heavily redacted memoir Guantanamo Diary is now a best-seller at this point... do you have any thoughts on why that is [such as, for example, the intriguing redactions]? Assuming interest in him and his book ends up making him some kind of "Anne Frank of Guantanamo," do you see this as any kind of turning point in the Guantanamo project, in terms of either public (or more importantly, elite) opinion, and perhaps stepped up general media coverage or interest... or do you think this will soon fall back into a "nothing to see here, move along" situation... like everything else GTMO -related over the last 13 years? Assuming you are at liberty to talk about any of this, I take it that the Diary represents material that, by definition, was presumed classified and had to be reviewed by "the privilege team" and ultimately cycled through the secure facility for lawyers near the Pentagon before any of it could be publicly disclosed... am I correct in my surmise that what ended up being the Diary was material Mr. Slahi handed to you or your co-counsel during legal visits, or did he mail it to you in "legal mail"? Did the government (military, intel services, etc.) review the book prior to publication to make sure nothing "classified" got published?" Or if you prefer, you may just answer "how the heck did you get this released?"

Nancy Hollander: On my first visit to Mohamedou in 2005, he handed me 90 pages that he had written so his lawyers would know something about him and about what had happened to him. During the course of that year he wrote the remaining 466 pages and sent it up in sections. The Privilege Team refused to review it because it was so long. We litigated this for years arguing that going to the “court of public opinion” is part of our litigation strategy and we want the book out. Finally, we gave up and he agreed to waive the attorney-client privilege so the various equity holders could review it. We do not know which intelligence organizations did the review but it came back a couple years later as “Protected.” This meant we could share it within the team but could not show it to anyone else. I went back to the government and told them he did not waive the privilege just so they could see what he wrote. I had various memos to back this up---that he waived to get a cleared copy that he could release to the public. Eventually they reviewed it again and we received the cleared copy. The whole 466 pages are up in a read-only file at We hired Larry Siems to edit into a book. The whole purpose of this book was to bring his story out and to assist in getting him freed. I hope it will do that. Everyone should read it---hard copy or Kindle. And it is now out in several languages. We have contracts already with about 23 countries so within the next few months, it will be out all over the world.

The Talking Dog: Turning to Slahi's habeas case (or "Salahi's"), my understanding is that the D.C. Circuit remanded Judge James Robertson's previous grant of habeas relief to Slahi... I understand that the habeas is still pending before Judge Robertson. The D.C. Cir.'s decision was that Slahi could be properly held notwithstanding that he was not captured on a battlefield anywhere near Afghanistan-- but handed himself in to Mauritanian authorities in November 2001, who in turn rendered him to Jordan, and then on to Bagram and GTMO... Among the government's contentions is that notwithstanding that Slahi's ties to al Qaeda date from the early 1990's when it was ostensibly an American ally (if not contractor) in the fight against communists, he left it (and Afghanistan) to live in Germany in 1992, and alleges that he severed his ties to Al Qaeda at that point. According to the government, Salahi nonetheless continued to serve Al Qaeda by acting as a recruiter in Germany, and in that capacity in 1999 helped persuade three of the eventual 9/11 plotters to travel to Afghanistan to receive training, that he assisted an Al Qaeda agent in Germany with the purchase of telecommunications equipment in the 1990s, sent money to an Al Qaeda agent in Mauritania in this period, interacted in Montreal with an Al Qaeda cell later linked to the attempted millennium bomb plot, and upon returning to live in Mauritania explored the possibility of computer-based attacks. The D.C. Circuit noted that between Judge Robertson's grant of habeas and the reversal/remand, D.C. Circuit case law had changed (or at least "clarified"), loosening up the requirements of what the government had to show on just about everything, right up to the "mosaic" theory so that no credible or reliable or otherwise admissible evidence at all is require to detain as long as there's a lot of unreliable evidence... Anyway... to the extent you can publicly talk about any of this, and if you like, you can answer by noting what you have asserted in public filings, how much of the government's allegations are based on the statements of either Slahi himself or other detainees that you have alleged were obtained by torture? By the way-- same question kind of flipped... are you aware of public allegations of statements supposedly incriminating other Guantanamo detainees (or anyone else, as he alludes to many such inculpatory statements in his Diary) made by Slahi while under torture? Given the D.C. Circuit's new and improved GTMO standards of proof and showing required to sustain detention, do you see much opening for Slahi in a "legal" sense, or would you agree with me, that whether or not Mr. Slahi is ever released will, like every other GTMO detainee to date of which I am aware, ultimately be a "political" matter?

Nancy Hollander: I answered much of this above. By the time Mohamedou got to Guantanamo from Jordan and Afghanistan, I believe the government already knew he had nothing to do with the Millennium Plot. They did not just release him because they didn’t want anyone to know where he had been. His family had been told he was in Mauritania the whole time and had been bringing food and clothing to the jail in Mauritania every day he was actually in Jordan. By the time of his hearing in 2010, the government admitted that he probably didn’t even know about 9/11. Judge Robertson found that all they proved was that Ramsi Bin Al-Shibh had been in his home one night in 1999. Mohamedou did make statements against others under his own torture and later admitted that he made them up. He talks about this in the book. We have a petition at the the department of defense to stop fighting his habeas so he can be released. We also understand that he will receive a PRB hearing and hope that one way or the other he will be released this year. He is innocent.

The Talking Dog: Turning to specific allegations of torture, I'll summarize by noting that Slahi was one of the few detainees with a "special interrogation plan" so special it required SecDef Rumsfeld's personal permission, and, aside from physical abuse, involved months on end of sleep deprivation, forced standing, round-the-clock interrogation sessions, threats, bizarre sexual humiliation (readers are invited to read the book for more specifics) ... the Diary suggests that the military officer ostensibly responsible for leading the team performing these abusive interrogations (i.e. torture) was one Navy Reserve Lt. Richard Zuley, who we have just learned from a Guardian report, is a retired detective from the Chicago Police Department, where, during his time on the police force, he evidently engaged in similar abusive treatment of criminal suspects, often resulting in false confessions. First question is straightforward-- I take it Zuley is named specifically in publicly filed papers in Slahi's habeas case? Do you know if other detainees have made public allegations concerning treatment by him? My next question is a bit broader (noting that,coincidentally, our mutual friend Candace Gorman hails from and practices in Chicago and coincidentally Barack Obama and I both graduated New York's Columbia College in 1983 with degrees in political science concentrating in international politics)... is there something about Chicago (where both you and President Obama spent some time as community organizers,and Detective Zuley allegedly abused suspects) that the rest of us should know about?

Nancy Hollander: I cannot comment about Zuley. But I can tell you about the Chicago I knew in the 1960s and 70s--- a subject for another day. Suffice to say, nothing would surprise me. I lived in the Foster Ave Police District where a bunch of them went to jail for selling stolen goods out of the basement of the police station. And I watched them shoot a man on the streets of Uptown.

The Talking Dog: How disappointed are you in President Obama concerning the fact that GTMO is still open and the prison there remains alive and well (even as some of its detainees are not, with 122 still there potentially indefinitely), his aggressive stance in appealing habeas cases (such as Slahi's), and his prosecution of whatever the war on terror is called now as well as his advancement of the total security state?

Nancy Hollander: Completely disappointed. He folded on everything important---health care, immigration, criminal justice. What else is there?

The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking Nancy Hollander for that candid and informative interview. I encourage all readers interested in the story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi to check out Guantanamo Diary.

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 Guantanamo military commissions defense attorney Todd Pierce, with former Guantanamo combatant status review tribunal/"OARDEC" officer Stephen Abraham, with attorneys Jon Eisenberg, David Marshall, Jan Kitchel, 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 sergeant-of-the-guard Joseph Hickman, 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, Laurel Fletcher, author of "The Guantanamo Effect" documenting the experience of Guantanamo detainees after their release, and with John Hickman, author of "Selling Guantanamo," critiquing the official narrative surrounding Guantanamo, to be of interest.