October 8, 2008 – According to newly released military documents, the Navy applied lawless Guantánamo protocols in detention facilities on American soil. The documents, which include regular emails between brig officers and others in the chain of command, uncover new details of the detention and interrogation of two U.S. citizens and a legal resident – Yaser Hamdi, Jose Padilla and Ali al-Marri – at naval brigs in Virginia and South Carolina.
The documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Guantánamo was designed as a law-free zone, a place where the government could do whatever it wanted without having to worry about whether it was legal,” said Jonathan Freiman, an attorney with the Lowenstein Clinic at Yale. “It didn’t take long for that sort of lawlessness to be brought home to our own country. Who knows how much further America would have gone if the Supreme Court hadn’t stepped in to stop incommunicado detentions in 2004?”
According to the documents, Navy officers doubted the wisdom of applying Guantánamo rules on American soil. In particular, officers expressed grave concern over the effects of the solitary confinement imposed upon the three men detained at the brigs, a practice that was considered to be even more extreme than the isolation imposed at Guantánamo. Navy officers also exhibited frustration with the Defense Department’s unwillingness to provide the detainees with access to legal counsel or any information about their fates.
“The application of Guantánamo protocols on U.S. soil is incredibly significant and indicates how far the administration has gone in terms of suspending the law,” said Jonathan Hafetz, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “The Bush administration has long argued that detainees held in Guantánamo are not entitled to any constitutional protections – an argument the Supreme Court has recently rejected. But this is not even Guantánamo – we are talking about creating prisons beyond the law right here in America.”
The documents clearly show that the standard operating procedure developed for Guantánamo Bay governed every aspect of detentions at the two bases inside the United States. Though Navy personnel tried several times to improve the harsh conditions under which Hamdi, Padilla and al-Marri were detained, senior Defense Department officials repeatedly denied the requests.
Padilla and al-Marri have reported being subjected to many of the brutal interrogation techniques used at Guantánamo Bay that included sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, prolonged isolation, extreme sensory deprivation, and threats of violence and death. That regime, it now appears, was the product of an effort to extend “Guantánamo rules” to prisons inside the United States.
Although the newly released military documents include mandatory “weekly updates” on the three men for certain periods, the weekly updates pertaining to Padilla and al-Marri for most of 2002-2004 – the period during which the two were being detained incommunicado and interrogated – were not released, but were also not reported as withheld or as missing, suggesting the possibility that Guantánamo-like interrogations were taking place.
Last month, the ACLU urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Bush administration’s authority to indefinitely imprison al-Marri without charge or trial. The ACLU asked the Court to reverse a federal appeals court decision that gave the president sweeping power to deprive individuals in the United States, including American citizens, of their most basic constitutional rights.