“Petty and Nasty”: Guantánamo Commander Bans Lawyers From Bringing Food to Share with Prisoners

31.5.15

The meeting room in Camp Echo, mentioned in Guantanamo commander Rear Adm. Cozad's May 2015 memo prohibiting lawyers from bringing food into meetings with the clients, as seen from one of the cells. Camp Echo is where prisoners used to be held in isolation.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In the latest news from Guantánamo, the prison’s military commander, Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, has issued a memorandum banning lawyers for the prisoners from bringing food to meetings with their clients. The memorandum, entitled, “Modification to Rules Regarding Detainee Legal and Periodic Review Board Meetings,” states, “Food of any kind, other than that provided by guard force personnel for Detainee consumption, is prohibited within meeting spaces.”

That innocuous sounding ban is, nevertheless, a huge blow to many lawyers and prisoners. Since lawyers were first allowed to visit prisoners ten years ago, and to represent them, after the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004, it has been an opportunity for bonding between lawyers and prisoners, and an opportunity for the prisoners to receive something from the outside world, in a place where, initially, they were completely cut off from the outside world, and where, even now, over six years after Barack Obama became president, they are still more isolated than any other prisoners held by the US — unable, for example, to meet with any family members, even if their relatives could afford to fly there, and, in almost all cases, held without charge or trial in defiance of international norms.

As veteran Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg explained in an article for the Miami Herald, “the custom of eating with a captive across a meeting table at Camp Echo — with the prisoner shackled by an ankle to the floor — took on cultural and symbolic significance almost from the start when lawyers brought burgers and breakfast sandwiches from the base McDonald’s to prison meetings in 2005.”

Writing of those first meetings, Rosenberg noted that the two sides “were strangers.” She added, “Meetings required an act of faith on both sides.” When the two sides became acquainted, some attorneys “moved on to traditional Middle East or Afghan food — falafel, hummus, baklava, kebabs — brought from restaurants in the Washington, D.C., region, or prepared in guest quarters before meetings. The two sides met across a taste of home, or something new, with the captive playing host, sharing the food if he chose.”

According to the commander’s memorandum, the ban on food at meetings addresses “health, safety and security concerns applicable to all Detainee meetings conducted in designated Camp Echo and Echo ll meeting huts or Camp Delta Gold and Silver buildings, regardless of the purpose of the meeting.”

Carol Rosenberg noted that Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesman for Guantánamo, called the new rule a “procedural modification,” that was “in the best interest of health, sanitation, safety and force protection.”

He said that there was “no specific episode that ended the policy,” beyond “ongoing patterns of possible improper sanitation and health practices,” and what Rosenberg called “a desire to imitate procedures at federal prisons and the military’s disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.”

“A legal room is not designed to be a dining facility,” Gresback added.

Responding, Shane Kadidal, a senior managing attorney at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “It’s true that normal prisons don’t let lawyers bring in food,” but, he added, Guantánamo is “the exact opposite of a normal prison.”

Kadidal also said that eating during meetings had “just become an accepted part of the routine” at Guantánamo, where, in contrast to “normal” prisons, “US troops comb through the defense lawyers’ legal documents.”

He described the tradition of lawyers bringing food to the prisoners as “[a] bit of compensation for the hassles of being shackled and stuffed into a van to meet with your lawyers in a tin shed in Camp Echo when the litigation isn’t really going anywhere.”

Alka Pradhan, of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, called the new rule “petty and nasty.”

“It’s actually quite tragic for the clients,” she said, adding, “Sometimes the food we bring is the only thing from the outside world they’ve seen in months, and they really look forward to it.” Carol Rosenberg explained that, after military inspection, she had brought “everything from Egg McMuffins and traditional Middle East sweets to fresh fruit and granola bars.”

Pradhan also said that the ban deprives prisoners of “a little slice of the outside world for a couple of hours” without, as Carol Rosenberg put it, “wondering whether a guard had spit or mixed pork into the food as they shared a meal with a lawyer” — “someone who’s not needlessly hostile to them.” in Pradhan’s words.

Other types of food brought by lawyers include “black seed, a home remedy for digestive issues” which Reprieve’s lawyers have taken to meetings with Younis Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan who has been approved for release since 2009, and whose case we have written about before.

Another Reprieve client, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who was resettled in Uruguay in December, after spending the year challenging the government’s force-feeding protocols for hunger strikers, said, as the Miami Herald put it, that his lawyers “brought fruit juice to meetings that he would sometimes sip for strength at the height of his hunger strike.”

The Miami Herald also reported that, several years ago, a lawyer and translator for made traditional Uighur noodles at the prison’s guest quarters for Ahmad Tourson, one of Guantánamo’s 22 Uighur prisoners (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang Province, seized by mistake), who, in October 2009, was resettled on the Pacific island of Palau. Shane Kadidal remembered that the three used Bic pens as chopsticks.

Another lawyer, a former military lawyer, estimated that he had spent $5,000 of his own money bringing meals from food outlets on the naval base — including McDonald’s and Pizza Hut — to meetings with Omar Khadr, the child prisoner who was returned to Canada in 2012 and freed from a Canadian prison on bail just three weeks ago.

The lawyer, who has defended several Guantánamo prisoners — and US soldiers accused of crimes in Germany — but who did not want to be identified, said he brought meals to his clients at meetings in both places, while in uniform.

Another former military lawyer at Guantánamo, Navy Reserve Commander Suzanne Lachelier, explained how she “would ferry Lebanese and Afghan food from Washington,” adding “fresh baked chocolate chip cookies from a base cafeteria,” while working with Ibrahim al-Qosi, a Sudanese cook charged in the military commissions, who was freed in 2012.

“The main point was to allow the ‘sharing of bread,’ whatever that bread was,” Lachelier said, recalling that “bringing him food permitted him to play host, if briefly, by offering his lawyer a cookie, a small reprieve from an otherwise powerless state of indefinite detention without charge.”

The new rule is just the latest change in a series of changes made by Rear Adm. Cozad, whose one-year tour of duty ends in July. As Carol Rosenberg noted, he earlier “recommended that a Navy nurse face trial for refusing to force-feed detainees, something medical professionals said was a reversal of a promise to not punish military healthcare providers for raising ethical objections.”

He also “implemented a policy of using female guards as escorts” at Camp 7, where the so-called “high-value detainees” are held, which some of the more devout prisoners complained about, for breaking “a long-running practice of having male soldiers handle prisoners who raised religious objections to being touched by women.”

Rosenberg also explained that lawyers for the “high-value detainees” were disappointed but not surprised. They said that a stove and a microwave, used by guards and defense lawyers, “recently vanished from the compound where former CIA captives meet with their lawyers.”

I hope this ban doesn’t stand, as, for the nine years I have been writing about Guantánamo and the men held there, I have been aware of how significant the “sharing of bread” at the prison has been. And shutting it down now, for spurious “operational reasons,” cannot be perceived as anything other than a cruel and unnecessary punishment for men who have already endured 13 years of unjustifiable isolation.

What you can do now

To call for the ban to be dropped, please call US Southern Command on 305-437-1244 (I originally recommended 305-437-1213, but Witness Against Torture have assured me, from experience, that the former number is better) and ask for Rear Adm. Cozad to continue to allow prisoners — “detainees,” as the authorities describe them — to have food brought to them by their attorneys.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers). He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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21 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article looking at the outrageous news that Guantanamo’s commander has banned lawyers from bringing food to share with their clients, an experience that, for ten years, has been a lifeline to the outside world for many of the prisoners ‬. As one of the lawyers described it, this rule change is “petty and nasty.”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Marion Heads wrote:

    Unbelievable, another cruel, barbaric act of inhumanity, injustice and inequity

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Could we BE any more inhumane? Yes, and we have proven it.
    Sorry guys…

    Regards

    an American.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Well said Andy

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Marion, Jan and David. Great to hear from you all. I’m glad you recognize how cruel this rule change is. Ever since I began researching and writing about Guantanamo, I’ve always felt that the meetings between the lawyers and the prisoners were – potentially – hugely important. Obviously, some of the men have given up hope and have given up on meeting with their lawyers, but, for those who still do meet their lawyers, those gifts from the outside world (even from US fast food outlets) – and the social context of the food – remain very significant.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Cat Watters wrote:

    WTF?? I’m so sick of hearing about the Psychos gaining more control,, Why to people put up with this shit?? Let’s Stop complaining and Do something already!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Cat. As ever, we always need more, more, more people prepared to do something. As I frequently say, if everyone who claimed to care about the state of the world actually did something about it, there would almost immediately be a noticeable improvement. We are many, and they are few!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jamal Ajouaou wrote:

    the social context of the food – indeed is very significant.matter of fact it is very important because ,it make the prisoner feel freedom , probably the devil guards might of have notice that the food from out side give prisoners inspiration revival energy like Duracell battery. I know how it is for prisoners.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your insight, Jamal. You put it better than I could! I love that: “the food from out side give prisoners inspiration revival energy like Duracell battery”!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    Just when you think it can´t get any worse… 🙁

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Toia. Good to hear from you, and yes, it’s a new twist of the knife, isn’t it?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    Thank you for the article and for the contact info – gonna do that, Andy, and hope that many of your other readers will do the same.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I too hope that people complain to Southcom, Toia. Thanks again for caring. I’ll try and get some of the other groups involved in Guantanamo campaigning to ask their supporters too.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Angela Gipple wrote:

    beyond nasty

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Geraldine Grunow wrote:

    Utterly inhumane….

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Marit Søyland wrote:

    🙁

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Angela, Geraldine and Marit. Good to hear from you, and I’m glad you appreciate the petty cruelty of this change to the rules.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Sven Wraight wrote:

    A sadistic bureaucrat should never be looking after prisoners. He is giving the US an even worse reputation.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sven. Yes, military bureaucrats behaving as though they’re not running a sadistic experiment that should never have existed, but some sort of acceptable military jail.

  20. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy!

    You quoted a spin doctor claiming that the new food policy was implemented to follow how convicts were treated in US prisons.

    Bzzzt

    Didn’t earlier spin doctors, like Commander Gordon, spend years try to argue that the camps were not a prison, that the “detainees” were not prisoners?

    The officers on the OARDEC panels routinely informed the captives that their hearings were “administrative”, not “judicial”.

    Someone needs to remind Cozad that, since the camps were not prisons, and the men interned there aren’t convicts, who are being punished, there is no reason for him to be trying to treat the men the same way actual convicts are treated in actual prisons.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver, for spotting the flaw in the spokesman’s claim that the rule change reflected “a desire to imitate procedures at federal prisons and the military’s disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.”
    Good to hear from you, as ever.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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