On 17 January 2018, the Guantanamo military detention facility marks its sixteenth anniversary. At its peak, the prison population was 779. Today, forty-one people remain imprisoned, a few of whom are facing trial in the military commissions. These special tribunals were established by the Bush administration and retained by the Obama and now the Trump administrations. One of the trials has five defendants, all of whom are accused of playing roles in the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks that triggered the US “war on terror.” These five were among fourteen “high value detainees” who arrived in Guantanamo in September 2006, after being held and tortured for years in CIA black sites (secret prisons).
In early December 2017, Lisa Hajjar was one of the journalists who attended a week of hearings in the 9/11 case. In this is a radio interview, she discusses recent developments in the military commissions with Avery Gordon and Elizabeth Robinson, co-hosts of No Alibis, which aired on Wednesday, 10 January 2018 on KCSB FM Santa Barbara 91.9.
The hearings in December 2017 were the twenty-seventh round of pretrial hearings in the 9/11 case since the five defendants were arraigned in May 2012. These hearings were described as “Hawsawi’s week.” Mustafa Hawsawi’s placement in the high-security courtroom symbolizes his place in this group trial; his table is the fifth, behind that of his four co-defendants. Hawsawi is accused of being a money man for the 9/11 conspiracy. Walter Ruiz, the defense counsel who heads the team representing Hawsawi, has been strategizing and striving for years to sever the case of his client from the others; he maintains that Hawsawi’s alleged role in the plot is relatively minor and by trying the five together, the government is bootstrapping him to more serious allegations against others.
Ruiz succeeded in persuading the judge to docket hearings on the government’s evidence connecting Hawsawi to the 9/11 plot, including material evidence and self-incriminating statements he made after he was transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo. The two FBI agents who were there to testify had interrogated Hawsawi in 2007.
These FBI agents were described by the Bush administration as the “clean team.” They were the government’s solution to the conundrum of how to elicit court-worthy incriminating statements from people who had been disappeared and tortured for years by the CIA. Since the 2006 transfer, the government’s position is that whatever statements they had made during their time in CIA custody will not be used by military prosecutors. Whatever statements they made to FBI clean team agents would be deemed court-worthy by virtue of the conduct of interrogations using conventional and lawful means.
The implications of this rhetoric depend on two presumptions: that the FBI was institutionally separate from the CIA and had not dirtied its hands by colluding in the use of torture, and that time itself could be separated between torture-time and post-torture time. Thus, as the narrative goes, the FBI was tasked not just with producing clean evidence but also with assisting in the whitewashing of present post-torture time.
Listen to this interview for the story of “Hawsawi’s week” in the military commissions.