George Brent Mickum IV
Attorney, Spriggs & Hollingsworth
Brent Mickum, who has practiced law for 23 years, is a partner with Spriggs & Hollingsworth LLC in Washington, D.C. Prior to the landmark 2004 Supreme Court decision upholding the right of detainees to challenge their detention, he had agreed to represent Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil El-Banna and Martin Mubanga. Early in his representation, Mickum personally paid for all his travel expenses; in late 2007, the last of these three clients was released without charge. Mickum then volunteered, along with Joseph Margulies, to represent Abu Zubaydah. Mickum has been a special assistant U.S. Attorney for the Department of Justice and the senior investigative counsel for the Senate Special Committee on Investigations.
George Brent Mickum IV on...
Interview: November 19, 2007
So when you first got involved at Guantanamo Bay, you were volunteering, for all we knew at the time, to represent the "worst of the worst?"
I got involved because I really felt it was wrong. It was not American. It was contrary to all of our principles, to keep people jailed forever without charge. And my feeling is -- well, was then and is now, that that's wrong. And they ought to be allowed an opportunity to at least contest the charges and prove that, perhaps, they had some of the wrong people incarcerated.
And the information that we had very early on, from alleged leaks from the CIA, is that most of the guys down there really didn't have any intelligence value. Because when we first started going down there, we had talked about maybe there were 40 guys down there who truly belonged. And at that point in time, they were pretty close to the full, you know, complement - 760 prisoners. And we've always held pretty resolutely to those figures.
Tell me about your first meeting with Bisher al-Rawi.
I remember walking in and how difficult it was to see, because it's so bright in that -- the white gravel. There is glare everywhere. And it was dark inside. And I'm peering in, trying to see him, and there is this guy sitting at the -- at a tiny table with two marines by his side. And I walked in, and he had this big, beaming smile, and he had trouble getting up, and as a matter of fact, my recollection is one of the Marines actually helped him up, because he was chained through an O-ring in the floor. His hands were shackled to a belt, and he put out one hand. And he clasped my hand and gave it one shake and just held on and told me how delighted he was to see me.
And at that point, I started asking questions, whether he could be unfettered. And that created a bit of consternation. And eventually, they settled on, "Well, we can take off the hand shackles and the belt shackle, but he's got to have the ankle shackles through the O-ring." So I got to know Bisher. And finally, the guards left, they told me what I needed to do in the event I needed to get them, and we started to get to know each other. And that has continued all -- through all my visits.
To tell you the truth, during my later visits with Bisher, we rarely talked about the case. At that point in time, I knew what there was to know. I would go down, and at the outset, we would talk. I would ask him questions. I'd get the information I needed. If I needed to get him to sign declarations, that sort of thing, we'd take care of that. Then I would tell him about what was going on in the world. And he wanted to know about sailing. So we talked about sailing. And I can remember describing how to, you know, tack towards an objective and how to use the wind, because I did a lot of sailing.
He needed some mental stimulation. I don't think that anybody really realizes just how grim it is down there. And Bisher was particularly compromised because he finally just took what, for him, was a principled stand that he wasn't going to be interviewed anymore. He just said, "Look. I've answered the same questions over and over about the alleged battery charger. Everybody knows it, just go look -- read in the files. I'm just not doing this anymore."
So he was essentially thrown into isolation in Camp Five, and for a time, was exposed to horrendous temperature extremes, heat and cold, and noise. They're always banging. And he was in grim shape in December of 2006. So much so that Zachary Katznelson who is with Reprieve in England, met him with a declaration that I wanted signed. And he made a determination that he didn't understand what he was signing. That's how -- what bad shape he was in.
So he could no longer, at that point, participate in his own defense?
He could no longer participate in any sort of meaningful way in his defense. It was at that point that I wrote another article that appeared in the British papers, you know, basically saying, "Look, you know. The jig is pretty close to being up here. He's not going to be okay, if he does come home, unless you move pretty quickly." Because the British government had agreed to intervene on his behalf in March of 2006, and nothing had happened. And in all the intervening months, he was essentially being tortured and mistreated, and to my knowledge, the British government had done nothing.
Now, in fairness to the British government, I had been working very closely with them since the December 2006 article, and they have been very helpful, and were very gracious to Bisher upon his return. They provided the plane, flew him home. He was allowed to move around. If the United States were to transfer him, he would be shackled, blindfolded. In fact, Bisher, when he was transferred from the jail was, again, ear muffed, blindfolded, the whole nine yards, as if he were, ever a threat, which we all know he's not.
I think one of the most poignant stories that I recall with some frequency had to do with Mamdouh Habib, who was rendered to Egypt, and just tortured horrifically. I mean, the account of his torture the worst I've heard. And his interrogators and guards, when they were putting him on the plane, told him that he was going to be rendered back to Egypt. And it was not until he landed, apparently, probably in Fort Lauderdale, and they moved him off the plane and he saw Joe Margulies smiling, that he finally knew that he wasn't going to be rendered or turned back over to the Egyptians. But the point is, you know, just how gratuitous that was, that they couldn't keep themselves from one last jab. And it's so petty. But it sticks with me. It really does.
Tell me about the first time that you met Jamil El-Banna.
It was the day after I met with Bisher. And he, at that point, had grown a big beard. He didn't look anything like the pictures I had seen. He had lost a great deal of weight. He had lost almost a hundred pounds.
There is no question that all of the prisoners at Guantanamo, if not starved, were all extraordinarily hungry. I would bring in food, and what I started doing, after my first trip, is staggering my meetings. I would meet with one in the morning, then I would break, not because I needed lunch, but it would give me an opportunity to go out and get food and meet with the other one in the afternoon and so that I could give them food every day. And that's what I tried to do.
In the early days, it was much easier. But I've never seen guys eat food with such reverence. And I would bring so much, it was extraordinary. I'd bring them sweets, I'm bring them candy, I'm bring them muffins, I'd bring them pizza, coffee, you know, raisins, whatever I could get my hands on. And gradually I came to know what they liked and didn't like.
But, you know, they kept trying to get me to eat something, and I kept saying, no thanks, you eat. You eat. And I'll be damned. They ate everything. And if there was a crumb on the table -- to a man, they'd see the crumb, they'd take their finger, push it, put it in their mouth. I mean, there is no question the United States never imagined that we would get down there. They felt that they would be able to do whatever it is they wanted to do.
We, the lawyers?
Yeah. That the attorneys would never get down there. They felt that they had managed to set up a facility that was beyond the law. They never imagined that the Supreme Court would come down, as it did, in the rule that aliens in Guantanamo, no less than the citizens there have the right to the jurisdiction of the court.
One of the first things Jamil asked me was why he hadn't received any mail from his wife and his young children. I think at that time his youngest daughter probably was only one or two. But I started to make some inquiries, and I talked to the Red Cross, who happened to be down on that trip. And I asked them about his mail and they said that they had received mail for him.
And I kept making inquiries, and wrote to different people. And the day before my next trip down to meet with Jamil, they delivered him 16 letters. Which I don't happen to believe was all the letters he had been written, but they knew I was coming, and they dumped a load of letters on him. Because at that point, I was pretty loaded for bear, because it was three months, and I knew how many letters had been written.
And he showed me a bunch of letters, one-page letters from his children with half a dozen lines on it, that's all, and some pictures. And the military had redacted huge chunks of these letters. And I subsequently talked to Jamil's wife, and asked her to make sure that she saves copies of all the letters in the future. And what I found out is that they were redacting language like, "I love you, Daddy. I miss you, Daddy."
I think in Jamil's case, they determined very early on that his weak link was his family. That he was traumatized by his inability to speak with them, and know when he might be able to get back to a system, because he worked all sorts of odd jobs to make money to help them get by as it was. And, you know, it's another sad story in this whole tragedy. Years from now, I think people will look back on this and be really, truly ashamed.
You said that part of this was just to beat them down. How so?
One of the operating procedures for Guantanamo was leaked over the Internet. And while none of it surprises me particularly, one of the things they've said is they want to keep them in prolonged isolation to foster feelings of dependency on their interrogators and to increase their disorientation. Each prisoner coming in was going to be represented by an interrogation team that included an interrogator, a regional expert on the region of the world from whence the prisoner came.
There was a BSCT team member, who was either a psychologist or psychiatrist, whose job it was to isolate the weak links in the prisoner, make him more pliant, if possible, so that they could glean more information. Knowledgeability briefs were prepared on each prisoner. There was a photograph of each prisoner. As a matter of fact, my client, Bisher al-Rawi, when he arrived at the camp, he had been beaten pretty badly. And we know this, because one of the other prisoners was shown a picture of Bisher in one of his interrogations and asked whether he recognized him. And he subsequently met Bisher and commented to Bisher, "I remember seeing your picture, and you looked as if you had been beaten up pretty badly."
We filed a motion to preserve evidence that specifically asked the court to require the government to save those photographs, under no particular illusion that the military paid that much heed. But in any event, the judge was very, very good. We initially just asked that they preserve evidence relating to torture and mistreatment. And the government refused to enter such an order.
I said, "Well, that's just fine by me." And I filed this amazingly comprehensive order in which I based a lot of my information on information I had obtained from former interrogators who had told me about the computer programs that existed, and what kinds of document information existed. And I put it in an attachment and listed it all there. And the judge entered the order. And I subsequently served that order on Porter Goss, who was then the director of the CIA, on Bob Mueller, who was the director of the FBI, and the general counsel for the Department of Defense.
In theory, that material has been preserved somewhere?
At least in my client's cases, the military, the CIA and the FBI are all under orders to preserve all evidence.
But here is one of the interesting pieces of information that links back up with this. When the prisoners -- particularly at the outset, when the prisoners arrived at the camps, my understanding is that the generals in charge insisted on being present when they were brought in. And the prisoners were given instructions. Of course they were goggled, they had the ear muffs -- they probably had been that way for 24 hours, completely disoriented -- were told in English to look outside, you know, turn their heads to the windows of the bus. Now, exactly how they know that, I'm not sure, because, you know, they've got blindfolds on.
And people who did not heed that warning were hit in the face with rifle butts.
Now, I was told that by a soldier who called me on the phone, after I appeared on a TV interview. And he apparently looked me up, and he called me. He never gave me his name, and I never pressed him for it. But he told me when he was there, he gave me a lot of information that we've subsequently confirmed who was there, who was on the ground, what the process was. And so guys that got hit in the face with rifle butts subsequently had their pictures taken. And I suspect that there were an awful lot of men who were abused at that time. And so one of these days, that's information that I think is potentially very useful.
They're told to look this way or look that way in English. How many of them understood English?
That's another curious thing. My guess is that the number of prisoners who were facile enough in English was very small, indeed. I have been very lucky, because all three of my clients speak English, to some extent. But I can't imagine that the total is too much more than 20, 30.
General Miller, when he was commander, and others have called Guantanamo a "battle lab for interrogation." I've read other comments that it turned into "one great big human experiment." Do those descriptions fit with what you have learned?
Guantanamo was never set up to be a jail. It was set up to be an interrogation center. And the administration and Department of Defense and the CIA have this theory of intelligence gathering. It's called the mosaic theory. And what it is meant to do is you take a large number of individuals who allegedly have information, and you extract that information, and you take the individual data. And you gradually fill in the mosaic, the puzzle, and it gradually will give you an idea of the enemy that allegedly we're fighting.
In theory, I think it's a perfectly fine idea. It's predicated, however, on people having meaningful intelligence. And what we found out, almost from the get go, I mean as early as 2004, Brigadier General Martin Lucenti is on record, in an interview with Financial Times saying 90 percent of these guys really don't belong here. Have no real intelligence value.
Now, after the Bush administration got hammered on that fact, of course, ever since then, the standard line out of the commanders at the camps is, oh, these are all dangerous terrorists, you know, "the worst of the worst," and they have never backed off. But a number of individuals early on basically said, look, most of these guys weren't fighting, most were running. And the fact of the matter is, we know now that 86 percent of these guys were turned over by the Pakistanis and Afghanis, primarily for bounties. We have copies of the leaflets. Not all of them, but I mean there is just no equivocation there. Only five percent of the prisoners were seized by the United States. I mean this comes from the military's own records. So it really can't be contradicted. And, in fact, I've never heard the military stand up and contradict the findings that my colleague, Mark Denbeaux, has come up with out of Seton Hall Law School.
And of your three clients, or the three that we've talked about, how many of them were picked up on the battlefield?
None. Each of my clients was arrested in Africa, in countries that are at peace with the United States. None had a weapon. It's uncontested that none engaged in any activity that was deemed hostile. None ever uttered a threat. None took any action against either the United States or its coalition allies.
My two clients, Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, were rendered by the CIA out of The Gambia, aboard a Gulfstream. We know the tail number. It's N 379 P. That is a fairly famous plane now. We've traced the route. It flew from Langley close to the CIA headquarters, flew to Banjul Airport. It flew out of Banjul to Cairo, Egypt, where it refueled and then on to Kabul, Afghanistan, where Bisher and Jamil were taken to one of the early CIA dark sites, known as the "Dark Prison."
There they were jailed underground in cells that were completely dark. They were chained on the wall for the first three days, and then subsequently their hands were unshackled, but their legs remained shackled in the entire time. They were buffered by sound 24 hours a day, music that Jamil has described as "devil music," but sometimes it could by the sound of jet engines taking off, sometimes it was rap music. My clients wouldn't have known rap from any other type of music. Bisher was not tortured there in a formal sense. Jamil was. Both were tortured once they were transferred to Bagram.
To what purpose?
Well, the dark prison, I think, for both guys was an incredibly dramatic experience. They had been whisked away out of the Gambia. I think that each had thought that his case would be resolved and eventually he would be returned. But instead, they find themselves being manhandled and then literally thrown into a dungeon-like cell, thrown like a -- Bisher has described it, it's like being thrown like a sack of wheat, you know. Chained. Then he was dragged up to the wall, chained up for a period of time. I think the point was to disorient them further. It was a form of sleep deprivation, as well. Bisher has talked about drinking his bottle of water. He had one bottle. He was given hardly any food, if at all, during his time there. And he had one small bottle of brackish water that he inadvertently knocked over in the dark. He said to me, you learn how to move incredibly slowly in the dark.
For a guy that had already been in pretty good shape, it was very traumatic, because he would try and do some pushups to keep himself warm. He said it was incredibly cold. They were transferred in December of 2002 to the jail. And I guess that would be a winter period of time, and he said it was just monstrously cold. And he had a thin blanket, but that's all he had. And Jamil was beaten, he was interrogated. Bisher was never interrogated. And the only thing that we can surmise is that they knew that Bisher had worked with MI5, the British Intelligence, when he was in London. Because when he was seized in the Gambia, the Gambian authorities asked which one of you is working with MI5? And Bisher didn't tell them. None of the others knew that Bisher had that relationship at the time. And then subsequently, when the CIA took control of the four, they continued to try and pry out of him who it was that had worked for MI5. Because MI5 had essentially tipped off the Americans that these guys had flown. Subsequently, in a July 2007 report that was just issued by the intelligence community, they tried to distance themselves and say that they never gave permission and, in fact, were bitterly disappointed when the Americans seized Jamil, Bisher, and the others.
The official line is that it hurt relations between the United States and Britain. And I believe that. I got some land, swampland I'd like to sell you. But in any event, assuming at least some of it is true, they never should have been picked up. That's the clear language of the British government on the position. So if they ever take the issue up with the American government, they will have to contend with this information as well.
The amount of the information that we have now attesting to their innocence is simply overwhelming. They basically have been jailed for five years and tortured in various locations around the world because they know a radical Muslim cleric who lives in London, who's never been charged with anything. That is their crime. That is the sole charge that exists against Jamil.
On the basis of his association alone with this one individual, he was deemed to be an enemy combatant. Now, subsequently, the United States has conducted what they call annual review boards. And these are even more of a sham than the CSRTs, because the attorneys are not allowed to participate at all. We're not given the findings. The only thing that we can get are the actual charges, new charges that are levied against the prisoners, if, in fact, the prisoners have the presence of mind to give the charges to their attorneys. And with both Bisher and Jamil, obviously, we instructed them to bring those and we've received them.
Bisher was charged with taking terrorist training in Bosnia and Afghanistan, among other things, during his ARB proceedings. And when we found this information out, of course, we went back to Great Britain, looked into the time frame of these things. And particularly when Bisher -- when we were negotiating for his release, that specific issue came up. And I told my contacts within the British Embassy give me the time frame here. Got the time frame, and went back and pieced together a timeline. And we were able to prove that Bisher had never left Great Britain until he went down to Guantanamo. He hadn't been out of the country since 1998. And he's never been to Bosnia. And the only time he's been to Afghanistan is when he was rendered there by the CIA.
Jamil's latest ARB charges him with keeping explosives in his basement in the home where he and his wife and five young children live. Now the only problem with that is, when he was arrested, before he left England, he was detained by the British. And they searched his home. And they dusted his basement for explosives. And so we have the results of that report. And there were no explosives.
But it's a constantly shifting sand with these guys. You know, you pick off this charge, you pick off this charge, you show that this charge can't possibly be true, and you prove that this one came from a prisoner who was tortured. And they just come up with new charges, even more fantastic than the last. The idea that Bisher was taking terrorist training in Bosnia and Afghanistan would be laughable, but for the fact of how serious it is. And they were keeping him incarcerated on that basis.
And look at Jamil. Five years taken -- he's never seen his youngest daughter, who was born after he was arrested in the Gambia. She's now five years old. She doesn't know him from Adam. These are the things that hurt him. His young boys have grown up without their dad. I have two kids of my own. It would kill me to be away from my children.
Explain a little bit more to me about the devil music, the sounds.
The way Jamil described what he called "debil" because that's his pronunciation, it was like -- it wasn't music. It was screams or like ghosts, you know, wooooo, but incredibly loud decibels. I can't tell you how loud it was. But nobody could communicate, and sleeping was almost impossible. And then they would change the sounds of it, and then you would have jet engines taking off. Could be rap music or rock music played at ear splitting levels. Clearly, the use of loud music is one of the techniques used to disorient prisoners. We know that from the FBI documents among other things. They would short shackle someone, forced to stare into a strobe light between two huge speakers, and they would leave them there for 17, 24 hours. And the reports I have is that, you know, the poor guys being taken away were just "completely fried." That was interrogators' terminology, not mine.
The use of extreme temperatures, cold, primarily, to induce hypothermia was -- seems to be the technique of choice down there where it's so hot. People forget that for the longest time, my clients and everybody else down in Guantanamo were jailed in open-air cages. They had a roof on it, but otherwise, it was open air, exposed to the elements 24 hours a day. And I have been down to Guantanamo, as have you. In the summer, the heat is stifling. Then it also gets very cold, and a lot of the guys didn't have blankets. And then as punishment for just the most minor of transgressions, and in most cases, I would venture to say they weren't even transgressions, because there were never any rules that were articulated to the prisoners, which they could, in fact, follow. You just do something. So what do they do? Well, they take away your clothes. They take away your blanket, and you're left to sit there and freeze, you know, for sometimes weeks at a time. That's life in Guantanamo.
And back to the dark prison, I understand that Jamil was tortured, and a big part of the torture was pretty serious and pretty profane threats against his wife.
Yes, that's true. And he was threatened repeatedly, and his family was threatened repeatedly. He was beaten. He was chained in uncomfortable stress positions. And his family was threatened if he wouldn't give up information on Abu Qatada, the Muslim cleric. What's so interesting is both at the dark prison and subsequently at Bagram, when there was no longer any pretense that the Americans were totally in control, and Bisher and Jamil made that abundantly clear. There was some question as to who might be in charge at the dark prison, once at Bagram, all bets were off. You know, the Americans were in charge.
The only information that the Americans wanted from Bisher and from Jamil at Bagram, and the dark prison, had to do with Abu Qatada. They never asked them about al Qaeda, per se. They never asked Bisher or Jamil anything about what they had done. None of the subsequent charges, alleged money transfers to charities in Jordan, that issue never came up. The only information had to do with Abu Qatada. And it's very clear to me that the Americans working with the British trying to trump up a case against Abu Qatada. And, to this day, no charges have ever been lodged against Abu Qatada. At this late date, the British government is desperate to extradite or at least transfer Abu Qatada out of the country. If there were a way for them to bring charges against him, if there were any factual basis to bring charges against him, the British government would have done so. I mean this is five, six years later. Recall, Abu Qatada was initially detained before any of my clients left the United Kingdom, before they were detained. And they're the ones who have spent all the time in prison while no charges have ever been pressed against them.
So were they trying to so-call flip them?
They were. There is no question. They were trying to, in fact, flip both of them before they ever left the United Kingdom. I've already indicated that Bisher worked for MI5 as an interpreter and as a go-between between MI5 and Abu Qatada. MI5 didn't want to meet, for some reason. They knew exactly where he was. Bisher would take written questions, given to him by his handlers, MI5, take them to Abu Qatada, get answers, take them back, translate the answers for them. I assume that MI5 also had the ability to do their own translations, but nevertheless, that was the plan.
Jamil was offered money to set himself up in business in the Mid East where he could take his children and have them schooled as Muslims. And he turned it down. He wanted to stay in England. Now we know that not because Jamil ever told me that, he didn't. We have information that has been released by the British government. Field memoranda from MI5 recounting visits and recounting this specific offer in which they offer to set him up in business and make him rich if he would work for them. And he just said, I don't want to do that.
They constantly threatened his wife, and, you know, threatened to kill him, threatened to rape her, do damage to his children. But the -- what I haven't told you is the transfer from the dark prison to Bagram was particularly harrowing. They were, once again, shackled up, hand and foot bound, masked, had the earmuffs, masks over their mouths. And they were taken out and Jamil, in particular, was beaten very badly. He was completely helpless, chained up. And then each was lifted again bodily, thrown into the back of a big dump truck. And Bisher and Jamil have both told me that the scariest part of this is that they kept taking other prisoners and just heaving them in on top of them, because they were among the first to be thrown into the truck. And they felt that they would suffocate, due to the weight of the prisoners on top of them. They were transferred by helicopter, and Bisher told me that that was the time he was most scared, because he felt that they were just going to be pushed out.
They eventually ended up in Bagram where Bisher has described just extreme sleep deprivation over a period of more than a month, where they're moving you constantly. I think that the average person doesn't really focus on how brutal sleep deprivation can be, because you only relate it to, well, I'm really tired this evening, and I've still got some work to do, and it will be 12:00, 1:00 before I manage to get to bed, and I have to get up at 4:00. No, that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about never essentially being allowed to every fall asleep soundly. So that, you know, you get to the point where you will say anything to try and be allowed to get some sleep. And what everyone has told me, including my clients, is they have no idea what they may have said. You're just not lucid. They could ask, you know, did you assassinate George Bush? And they would say, yeah, yeah, yeah. Whether the Bush administration wants to call these techniques torture, I'm not going to even debate that issue anymore. All of the techniques, all of the "enhanced techniques" constitute torture in violation of the Geneva Convention. That's the end of that discussion. And history will bear that out.
Go back to Bisher and Guantanamo. Sometime ago, you mentioned that at some point, he just had enough, and refused to answer any more questions, refused to be interrogated anymore. He was then put into isolation.
Every day he was subjected to environmental stress in some form or another. Frequently he was left just in his undershorts and T-shirt in the cold, they would turn up the air conditioner so it would be in the 40s. And he would be left like that for sometimes weeks at a time. He was not allowed any reading materials, other than a Koran. They would remove all of his comfort items, things that we would normally consider essentials, like a cup for water, a toothbrush, toilet paper. The lights were left on 24 hours a day so that sleep was nearly impossible. You're not allowed to cover your head with a blanket, even if Bisher had one. So what he did, and began doing, is using some of the sheets of toilet paper, each prisoner was given 15 sheets of toilet paper a day. And what Bisher did was he put some of the sheets of toilet paper over his eyes, so he could try and get some sleep.
The guards look in on you every 10 minutes or so. And they noticed this, and they decided that he was misusing his toilet paper, and so they removed it. So therefore, he received no toilet paper. Likewise, one of the times when he was freezing cold, he used his prayer rug to try to cover himself up to get a little bit of relief, and they removed his prayer rug, again, for misuse. These aren't rules that mean anything. They were just being cruel.
One of the things that Bisher wrote me, in one of his letters is something like this. He goes, some of the things that they do to you here are so cruel that it causes you to lose your balance. And this was one of the his letters where I think he was beginning to lose his grip, and I think really beginning to despair, because he also told me about times when they would turn the heat up, and it would get so stiflingly hot in the jail that he literally couldn't move around because breathing was so hard. You think about being in a sauna or a very hot steam room, if you move very quickly through the heat, it is difficult to breathe. And it will almost burn you. And he said that he would spend the whole day just trying to wait for the evening when it would cool off a little bit.
But these were bad times. I mean let's face it. There are a lot of things that have been done at Guantanamo that, historically speaking, we're not going to be proud of.
You and another of Bisher's attorneys became very worried about him. You said that he was "slipping into madness" and you were afraid "it could become permanent."
He has been in extreme isolation. He's being tortured on a daily basis. And when we were able to see him in the latter portion of years, particularly Zach Katznelson and Clive, at the end of the year in November and December, he was completely -- he was laughing maniacally. He could not concentrate on anything. And the determination was made that he couldn't understand what he was signing, and to my colleagues' credit, they wouldn't allow him to sign the declarations that I provided. The fact of the matter is, they probably could have reached over, got his hand and said Bisher, you need to sign this. And they were important declarations that we wanted to use with both the British government and potentially in the lawsuit over here.
I don't think that there is any question that prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation will produce exactly the effect that was taking place with Bisher. And I've read Alfred McCoy's book on CIA and torture, and that is exactly the effect that this sort of treatment ultimately achieves.
You just lose your mental stability, you lose your balance, and if you lose it for long enough, the damage can be permanent.
And what I wanted very much to do is make the British public aware, and the British government aware that Bisher's blood, as it were, was going to be on their hands if they didn't move pretty quickly, because I was convinced that he was spiraling downward very, very fast. I mean, I had known him when he was a very gregarious, intelligent guy.
Was he aware of what was happening to him?
I think that he was, because he wrote us letters about it. He goes, I know that I'm declining. I talk to myself all the time. But again, if you're in isolation all the time, you know, that's just a way to pass the time. I don't think the people really focus on just how insidious everything that has been done to these people is, but this is a supermax prison that's frankly worse than our supermax prisons here. For all intents and purposes, they don't get any chance to go outside. Bisher didn't see the sun for at least nine months.
And when he was finally put back on the plane, the British officials who accompanied him back said he never stopped talking. He's a very gregarious guy anyway. But my comment to them was, well, if you had been in isolation for a year -- because he had been in isolation at that point for almost an entire year -- you'd probably be pretty talkative too.
And all this time that he's held in isolation, it seems clear that he's not providing any intelligence, actionable intelligence, that there are no real charges against him.
It was clearly punishment. Now, I would add, at the very time that Bisher allegedly is -- well, at the very time when Bisher is being punished and put in isolation, exposed to these temperature extremes, the military is also declaring that prisoners don't have to talk to their interrogators anymore.
In fact, that was misleading at best, and, in fact, I believe it to be a lie.
But they just want you to obey. And if you don't obey -- well, I mean think of it this way. And this is something I've said a lot of times. Even the Bush administration believes that the photographs from Abu Ghraib depict behavior that's beyond the line. I don't think there is any debate about that. Okay? So I'm not trying to put any words in anyone's mouth. The fact of the matter is that that treatment, you know, being forced to get naked and get in a pile is an easy choice for me. If my choice is to be exposed to the cold such that hypothermia is induced or get naked and get in a pile, I'm getting in the pile. I guarantee you. I mean, if my choice is to be exposed to the heat such that I pull out clumps of my hair, which one of the FBI documents exposed, I'm getting naked in a minute, and getting in that pile.