Report: GTMO Lobbying Effort in Washington DC July 14, 2009

by Valerie Lucznikowska
July 21st, 2009

Report to 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
GTMO Lobbying Effort in Washington DC July 14, 2009

By V. Lucznikowska from Talat Hamdani’s notes

Attending: Talat Hamdani, Valerie Lucznikowska, Ken Williams

Preparation: Amnesty International and ACLU field organizers in DC and others were contacted prior to forming a target lobbying list. CCR was contacted but did not respond. Current topics of concern were discussed and pending legislation was noted, and assistance with lobbying tips provided. Last August’s lobbying notes by Anne Mulderry were reviewed, but a new presidency in the interim has effected many changes.

The most important current topics are:

  1. the upcoming Army Appropriations bill in the Senate being discussed this week ($50 million was previously denied by Congress to close Guantanamo) and language being written into the current legislation will essentially overhaul the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and
  2. the forthcoming presentation on July 21 to President Obama of the report of the President’s Task Force on detention and interrogation policy.

Another Task Force on individual detainee cases will be presented later in the year. Our lobbying was pushed ahead of schedule to have potential input into these proceedings.

Special thanks to Robert Samors and Ann Tutwiler who not only opened their lovely home in the DC area to us, but made a terrific welcoming BBQ as well!

Meeting objectives: To articulate PT’s Guantanamo program goals to legislators and government officials:

  • Support the closing of Guantanamo prison
  • Urge the rehabilitation and release of those detainees cleared for release and not charged and the legal trials of those charged either in established US courts, the normal US military courts-martial process or international courts.
  • Urge Congress to stop playing internal politics and admit that hundreds of persons convicted of terrorism are now incarcerated safely in top-security US prisons: not one has escaped.
  • Urge the administration and Congress to revoke the Military Commissions Act of 2006, disband the current Military Commissions under that law.
  • Close black sites (particularly Bagram in Afghanistan) and abandon extraordinary rendition. These goals were noted in our “leave-behind” letter which was also delivered to various other Congressional offices. Please see the end of the report for the letter and additional legislators to whom it was delivered.

Requested Meetings: Meetings were requested with Senators who are key to the Armed Services Appropriations Bill (now in Senate discussion) and various other officials key in the disposition of Guantanamo issues:

  • Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) (Chair, Armed Services Committee)
  • Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (Armed Services, Judiciary Comms.)
  • Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (Chair, Judiciary Comm.)
  • Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (Armed Services, Ranking member)
  • White House counsels (top advisors to Obama) David Axelrod and Greg Craig.
  • Deputy Attorney General David Ogden (serving on the President’s Detainee Task Force)
  • Phil Carter, DOD, Asst. Secretary for Detainee Affairs
  • Rep. David Obey (D-WI) (Chair, Appropriations Comm.)
  • Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) (Chair, Armed Services Comm.)
  • Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) (Chair, Judiciary Comm.)

Calls of note received:

Greg Craig telephoned the Friday before we left to say that neither he nor David Axelrod would be available in DC when we were to be there, but he congratulated us on our work. I expressed dismay at the reports that President Obama might sign an executive order approving indefinite detention. Craig said the President was upset by these rumors and that he definitely would not do that. He also said the Military Commissions Act was being changed substantially, “completely substituted” were his words.

Matt Flavin, the White House aide appointed to be Obama’s personal liaison with 9/11 family members at the February meeting with Obama I attended, called me on our return from DC. I told him we felt that despite the family meetings held by the OMC, our views were not being heard above the din of unresolved personal grief turned to calls for revenge. He was very cordial and offered his help on anything I might need.

Heather Cartwright (DOJ, Director, Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism, National Security Division, Office of the Deputy Attorney General) telephoned as we were driving to DC and offered another family meeting in lieu of the meeting I had requested with Deputy AG Ogden. I declined, saying we felt our views weren’t being heard in these meetings (I mentioned Darren Welty’s concern that the death penalty, if gained for KSM and others, would create martyrs encouraging new terrorists – his words were brushed aside by Prosecutor Swann at the NY meeting July 7.) She offered a special meeting for us. I said I would discuss it with our group.

Meetings:

Senator Carl Levin (D-MII) Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, an author of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Also an author of the “SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY” – see Executive Summary at http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/supporting/2008/Detainees.121108.pdf

PT Meeting was with Legislative Aide Justin Harlem:

Valerie introduced us and we presented our objectives for the visit. As we had limited time with busy staff members (usually only 30 minutes), Valerie articulated PT’s concerns and Ken and Talat expressed specific concerns when appropriate.

Harlem expressed his condolences and appreciated our activism. Senator Levin believes GTMO has sullied our nation’s image globally and wants to set up an investigative committee. He said to read up the Armed Services Committee report (see above) for the Senators views.

Sen. Levin believes the orders came from the highest level in government for the black sites and “harsh techniques”. There is a memo from Rumsfeld authorizing torture in GTMO, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The detainee issue has to be approached from two fronts;

  1. detainees already captured
  2. detainees who will be continue to be captured.

Levin agrees MCA 2006 was a debacle and has to be revised and substantial changes have to be made. The revised MCA has to answer two crucial questions:

  1. Could we live with the MCA if our people are arrested and subjected to it?
  2. Does the MCA follow the rule of law?

Harlem was very professional, courteous and respectful. Good meeting, forthcoming.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) An author of the MCA of 2006, and a JAG judge. (Judge Advocate General, see http://www.goarmy.com/jag/index.jsp )

PT meeting was with Adam Brake, Counsel for National Affairs, veteran of Afghanistan, he joined the Graham office in 2006 form the Army. In Afghanistan was JAG on captured enemy cases.

Valerie objected to indefinite detention, threatening our nation with the fear of becoming totalitarian (like the former USSR). Brake agreed.

Valerie said we understand the MCA of 2006 is being totally rewritten, but we would like to see it completely overturned in favor of trying the remaining detainees in federal, military or international courts.

Brake made reference to Sen. Graham’s distaste for mistreatment of detainees, referring to Jim Haynes (William J. Haynes II), Rumsfeld’s DOD general counsel who pressured JAG officers to legally affirm harsh treatment of detainee. [Sen. Graham subsequently blocked Haynes’ bid for a federal appeals court judgeship.].

Brake said the Senator thinks we are in a state of war, making military commissions appropriate. Valerie asked for a definition of who we are at war with and how the enemy is defined.

Brake agreed this is an unusual war and the distinction here is that it is a centralized organization, Al Qaeda, rather than a nation with whom we are at war. He said others around the world take direction from them and are linked to them. He said the senator believes it is a war that will not end in his (the senator’s) lifetime and could last very long.

Valerie: how we will know when this war is over and what will be the indicators of a successful end to the war? In Iraq there have been these questions.

Brake: When we don’t have to have troops overseas.

Valerie said that prior wars have had declarations of beginnings and armistices at the end, and military commissions were convened after the fact. But these military commissions have been instituted before the cessation.

Brake: This is a generational war. It will be over when people stop shooting at us. There are many variables. We will know Al Qaeda is defeated when they stop attacking us, or plotting to attack us.

The conversation moved on to trials and detention on US soil. Brake: Look at the degree of how it impacts the community if we bring the detainees on our soil. There are internal gangs and local drug trafficking around Folsom prison and other prisons where there are drug traffickers – their cohorts congregate around those prisons in those communities.

Valerie said that his example was not relevant. There are perhaps 50 Guantanamo detainees who can be tried in the US and they do not have to all be in one prison. Our max security prisons hold many terrorists, domestic and Middle Eastern; there have been 145 terrorist trials in the US since 9/11 and many were incarcerated here before that. No one has ever escaped from a US max security prison.

Valerie: Who must we capture of Al Qaeda to end the war? Do you believe Osama is alive?

Brake: No. I also believe Osama is not alive, but we have secondary leaders like Al Zawahiri hiding in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have to get them.

Talat: You do know Osama was on the CIA payroll for 9 years and Bush Sr. had oil deals with him. Brake replied with a smile at Talat.

Valerie related the terrorist allegations and interrogations the Hamdani family endured for 6 months as part of an investigation of Salman, Talat’s son. He perished in the WTC, and only after 6 months were they told that his body was found weeks after the event. Talat now fears that he could have been detained and tortured.

Talat: spoke on the testimony of officials given at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing s of July 8 and a general’s testimony that the majority of detainees were not arrested on the battlefield; they were civilians handed over for cash, or were by troops breaking into their homes. We have violated rules of war. We did not follow the procedure to determine on the spot whether the arrested persons are really militants.

Valerie: Why does the senator think this war will not be over in our life time?

Brake: Graham has gone to GTMO and traveled widely overseas and to Afghanistan to investigate and finds that this is highly organized and will go on indefinitely. If we fail in Afghanistan, the Taliban take over.

Valerie: Is there outreach by the US military to education in Afghanistan?

Brake: Establishing rule of law is essential to proper functioning of the countries. We have to understand them from their own cultural perspectives. A Civilian Response Corps has been established. The State Dept. is hiring people to build civilian infrastructure in these states and provide education. They are called Prevention Reconstruction Teams. He suggested, as a native speaker of local language, Talat should become involved in this program.

Valerie: The unnecessary killing of innocent civilians is a transgression of the rules of war.

Ken: Don’t the drone attacks fit into that category when they kill civilians?

Brake: Media distorts what really happened. All that about the wedding parties.

Valerie: What is the Senator’s opinion of indefinite detention?

Brake: He is against it. The policy has to come from the top. We are waiting for the administration’s policy. Sen. Graham believes we have to get the policy right first then work to implement it.

Excellent, cordial meeting – he gave us a full hour! Brake is someone who is passionate and sincere about what he does, and receptive to those who are also sincere.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (Armed Services, Ranking member)

PT delegation met with Robert Fischer, Legislative Aide.

The meeting was held in the reception area as Fischer said no conference room was available. Valerie made the initial presentation. Fischer sat there expressionless, lips pressed together, staring at the table. He was neither welcoming nor receptive, very off-putting.

Valerie asked about the Senator’s thoughts on indefinite detention. Fischer relied that the Senator believes Bush abused his powers, but didn’t answer directly. Talat asked if he would please get back to us on that.

Valerie made the analogy to a totalitarian state regarding indefinite detention and said we were not in favor of the military commissions, but would prefer to see detainees tried in federal, military or international courts. Fischer said he didn’t get a correct assessment of where the Senator stands on this issue he does believe in the military commissions and will get back.

Talat: Does the senator believe that the detainees have due process rights?

Fischer: Yes.

Talat: At the Senate hearings on July 8 he said he was surprised that those who would attack us have any rights.

Fischer: Where did you read it? Will you email the article to me? Which newspaper?

Talat: I did not read it in any article. I watched the hearing and heard him say it.

Fischer: If you knew, then why did you ask me the question?

Valerie:: Does Senator McCain believe we are at war?

Fischer: Yes.

Valerie: What will signal the end of war? What will be a successful conclusion to the war?

Fischer: It is very difficult for me to answer, McCain has 170 articulated statements.

Fischer became very defensive on Talat’s questioning about the Senator’s opinions and kept saying we should look the subject up on his website or in articles.

Valerie said there was no declaration of war. How do you justify this as a war?

Fischer: Well, this discussion is philosophical and can go on for ever.

His continuing attitude was such that it was clear further discussion would not be productive. Valerie said that our intention was not to antagonize him.

Fischer: I resent your tone. I will not say anything more. Do you have anything more to say? We did not.

A letter of concern about our reception is being sent to Senator MCCain.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (Chair, Judiciary Comm.)

Meeting with Zulema Espinel, Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and two other committee counsels.

Valerie did the presentation. Espinel agreed with her opinions and asked that his be off the record, so Talat stopped taking notes.

There was general agreement on indefinite detention and that people have lost faith in our government. Espinel wanted to know if we had also been meeting with others who hold opposing view from ours. We assured her we did. The meeting was very short as they were needed in the Sotomayer confirmation hearings.

Distribution of folders with leave-behind letter and PT brochure

The above at meetings plus hand-delivered to:
Senate:

  • Sen. Cochran (R-MS) (Appropriations Comm. Ranking Member)
  • Sen. Collins (R-ME) (Appropriations, Armed Services, Homeland Security Comms.)
  • Sen. Inouye (D-HI) (Appropriations Comm. Chair)
  • Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) (Armed Services Comm.)
  • Sen. Lieberman (I-CT) (Armed Services Comm.)
  • Sen. Martinez (R-FL) (Armed Services Comm.)
  • Sen. Reid (D-NV) Majority Leader
  • Sen. Sessions (R-AL) (Armed Services Comm.)
  • Sen. Specter (R-PA) (Judiciary Comm. Ranking Member)

House:

  • Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) (Judiciary Comm. Chair)
  • Rep. Nadler (D-NY) (Judiciary Comm.)
  • Rep. David Obey (D-WI) (Appropriations Comm. Chair)
  • Rep. Pelosi (D-CA) Speaker
  • Rep. Rangel (D-NY) (our fundraiser will be in his area)
  • Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI) (Judiciary Comm.)
  • Rep.. Ike Skelton (D-MO) (Armed Services Comm. Chair)

Leave-behind letter on PT letterhead:

14 July 2009

As an organization of members who lost loved ones in the events of September 11, we urge you to help restore our national sense of justice and fairness by supporting the closing of Guantanamo prison and assuring Constitutional trials for the detainees who remain there.

We urge the rehabilitation and release of those detainees cleared for release and not charged, and the legal trials of those charged either in established US federal courts, in US military courts, or in international courts of law. We reject the use of indefinite detention in any form.

Some people have irrational fears that bringing the detainees into the United States, trying and incarcerating them here, is somehow an unprecedented and exceptional danger. This is a notion that must be put to rest. No one has ever escaped from a maximum security prison in our country. Many convicted terrorists are already in our prisons, successfully kept from the ability to do us harm.

We applaud the attempt to completely overhaul the MCA of 2006, but we would prefer it to be revoked outright. We believe that existing courts and laws are capable of dealing with “the worst of the worst”.

Further, we encourage you to work toward bringing an end to extraordinary rendition and black sites. We particularly urge the closing of Bagram prison, which has become a de facto Guantanamo in the eyes of the world. Terrorists are created by these injustices.

We each have experienced the trauma and grief of a sudden loss of a loved one. For this reason, we are committed to turning our grief into a force for peace and justice. We must stop the cycles of retribution and violence that plague our world.

Sincerely,

Valerie Lucznikowska, Talat Hamdani, Ken Williams
For the members of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

Filed in: Guantanamo & Military Commissions, Valerie Lucznikowska

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