No Comment — July 31, 2009, 9:50 am

Court Orders Release of Juvenile Prisoner at Gitmo

When historians search through the materials relating to Guantánamo for a handful of cases that give a good sense of what was done there in the nation’s name, they’d be well advised to pause over the file of Mohammed Jawad. On December 17, 2002, a grenade was hurled at Americans traveling in a Soviet military vehicle, resulting in injury to several soldiers. Jawad was arrested and accused of the act. He may have been 12 years old at the time, and certainly was no older than 14. American officials consistently misrepresented him as older. Jawad states that he was near the passing convoy because he had been hired to clear landmines; he says he did not throw the grenade. The Government has never produced any meaningful evidence that he did.

Instead, the Bush Administration attempted to push Jawad’s case through on the basis of a confession extracted through torture. A military judge reviewing the case, Colonel Stephen Henley, concluded that Jawad was turned over to Afghan authorities who threatened to kill Jawad or his family if he did not confess; he refused to allow the case to proceed on this basis.

The torture of young Jawad was not limited to American proxies in Afghanistan, however. In Guantánamo he was abused repeatedly, particularly by means of a form of sleep deprivation known as the “frequent flyer program.” This regime involved prison guards waking a prisoner every 2-4 hours and moving him to a different cell, ensuring that he would not sleep for days. Jawad was subjected to this process 112 times, according to military records. And interestingly, all of those incidents occurred after the military—following widespread criticism of the program—announced that it had ceased its use in May 2004. Judge Henley wrote that “[t]hose responsible should face appropriate disciplinary action, if warranted under the circumstances” for their “flagrant misbehavior.” There is no evidence so far of any disciplinary action or even of an investigation. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, the Pentagon has an affirmative duty to investigate war crimes allegations–and in this case, we have what approaches a judicial determination that war crimes occurred.

Jawad also sought habeas corpus review of his case before Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in Washington. In the last week, the Justice Department admitted to the court that its defense of Jawad’s detention in Guantánamo was no longer tenable–a fact that had been plain to all outside observers following Judge Henley’s ruling. The Justice Department’s case rested entirely on confessions secured by torture; moreover, the Justice Department had consistently misled the court about the circumstances in which the confessions were obtained and insisted that no torture was involved—apparently relying to the bitter end upon the celebrated John Yoo understanding of the word “torture.” Yesterday, Judge Huvelle ordered Jawad’s release and return to Afghanistan. “Enough has been imposed on this young man to date,” she said. The judge gave the government until August 21 to arrange his return home to Afghanistan.

Major David Frakt, the Air Force reserve JAG whose tenacious management of the defense of Jawad does credit to the uniformed bar, summed up the situation well in a powerful closing argument he delivered to the Military Commission that led to the rejection of the government’s case against his client:

Why was Mohammad Jawad tortured? Why did military officials choose a teenage boy who had attempted suicide in his cell less than 5 months earlier to be the subject of this sadistic sleep deprivation experiment? Not that anything would justify such treatment, of course, but at least in the case of the other detainees known to have been subjected to sleep deprivation, they were believed to possess critical intelligence that might save American lives. Unfortunately, we may never know. I’ve asked to speak to the guards who actually carried out the program, and I’ve been denied. In the absence of information to the contrary, which the government would surely provide if it existed, we are left to conclude that it was simply gratuitous cruelty.

The government admits that Mohammad Jawad was treated “improperly,” but offers no remedy. We won’t use any evidence derived from this maltreatment, they say, but they know that there was no evidence derived from it because the government didn’t even bother to interrogate him after they tortured him. Exclusion of non-existent evidence is not a remedy. Dismissal is a severe sanction, but it is the only sanction that might conceivably deter such conduct in the future…

Sadly, this military commission has no power to do anything to the enablers of torture such as John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Robert Delahunty, Alberto Gonzales, Douglas Feith, David Addington, William Haynes, Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, for the jurisdiction of military commissions is strictly and carefully limited to foreign war criminals, not the home-grown variety. All you can do is to try to send a message, a clear and unmistakable message that the U.S. really doesn’t torture, and when we do, we own up to it, and we try to make it right.

Read all of Frakt’s argument here.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2016

Unhackable

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Imperium

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fighting Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Front Runner

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Habits of Highly Cynical People

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Elisabeth Zerofsky on Marine Le Pen, Paul Wachter on the quest for an unhackable email, Rebecca Solnit on cynical people, Andrew J. Bacevich on truth and fiction in the age of war, Samuel James photographs E.P.L. soccer, a story by Vince Passaro, and more

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Front Runner·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The F.N. asked to be sent to an institution whose legitimacy it did not accept, and French voters rewarded the party with first place in the election."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Memoir
I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A paean 2 Prince
"And one thinks, Looking into Prince's eyes must be like looking at the world."
Photo ©© PeterTea
Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As wacky as it sometimes appears on the surface, American politics has an amazing stability and continuity about it."
Article
Plexiglass·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Photograph (detail) by Karine Laval

Age at death last March of the sturgeon Nikita, Khrushchev’s gift to Norway, after an accidental immersion in salt water:

38

There were new reports of cannibalism in North Korea.

The Finnish postal service announced it will begin mowing lawns on Tuesdays.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today