No Comment — October 2, 2009, 4:01 pm

The Case of Fouad al-Rabiah: Airline manager or terrorist?

It’s worth diving into one of those 38 habeas cases to get a taste of the arguments that are being made. One decided late last week by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, a no-nonsense Reagan appointee, involved a Kuwaiti named Fouad al-Rabiah. The prosecutors called him a terrorist, but for the defense he was a Kuwaiti airlines manager stuck at the wrong place and the wrong time. Judge Kollar-Kotelly reviewed the evidence and had no difficulty making the call. Al-Rabiah was to be released “forthwith.” There was no basis for his detention. And the judge makes plain that she was disturbed by the way the Bush team treated him. English journalist Andy Worthington has written a good summary of the case, and the unclassified part of the opinion can be examined here. I’ll just highlight a few points.

Al-Rabiah had been examined with care by a CIA agent shortly after his arrival in Guantanamo. The conclusion: this is an innocent man who should not be held. He had been in the Tora-Bora region at the same time Osama bin Laden was there. He offered this up freely with explanations. Now, nine years later, after a full vetting of the record, a judge makes an identical conclusion: let this man go. So what intervened between these two determinations?

Government officials, lacking any evidence to justify the detention of a man who was almost certainly innocent, decided they needed something to justify his detention. The government insists, of course, drawing on all the legal gymnastics of the torture memos—theoretically repudiated, but still fuelling absurd positions taken by Justice Department lawyers—that no torture was involved. What was done to al-Rabiah is also super-secret and the interests of national security preclude its disclosure. But prolonged sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, the use of extreme heat and cold, short-shackling in painful stress positions, forced nudity, forced grooming, religious and sexual humiliation, and the use of loud music and noise—these techniques all belonged to the standard operating procedure of Gitmo, and they would have been applied in combination on a prisoner like al-Rabiah with the objective of “breaking” him and securing false testimony.

Under such treatment, al-Rabiah proceeded to confess to every act the prosecutors needed for their case. The judge concluded that the confessions were “entirely incredible” and that the government’s case against al-Rabiah rested on a series of almost absurd contentions that had no basis other than the torture-induced confessions. (The judge, alas, avoids use of the word “torture.” She focuses only on credibility.) Although “al-Rabiah’s interrogators ultimately extracted confessions from him,” she writes, they themselves “never believed his confessions based on the comments they included in their interrogation reports.”

One of the more puzzling aspects relates to Eric Holder and his Justice Department. Although they ostensibly reviewed all these cases, they decided to stick to the unsupported position of the Bush Justice Department to the end. The Holder Justice Department, which has denied it would proceed on torture-induced evidence, did exactly that.

One lesson from the al-Rabiah case is this. The Obama Justice Department has very little interest in justice for the detainees at Gitmo, but an obsession with guarding the dark secrets of their predecessors.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

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

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
New Television·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Season 5 of Louie (FX), Louie is a new kind of superhero. Like Wonder Woman, the canonical superhero he most resembles, Louie’s distinctive superpower is love.”
Illustration by Demetrios Psillos
Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.

In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today