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:

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

July 2016

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective
Post
Inside the July Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.

The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Post
Europe’s Hamilton Moment·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson

Pairs of moose-dung earrings sold each year at Grizzly’s Gifts in Anchorage, Alaska:

6,000

An Alaskan brown bear was reported to have scratched its face with barnacled rocks, making it the first bear seen using tools since 1972, when a Svalbardian polar bear is alleged to have clubbed a seal in the head with a block of ice.

A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.

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