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Colangelo-Bryan: Talking Dog Interview

January 25, 2006
The Talking Dog
Blog Interview with Joshua Colangelo Bryan

On January 18, 2006, I had the privilege of speaking with Joshua Colangelo Bryan, an attorney with the New York office of the law firm of Dorsey and Whitney, and counsel to three currently detained inmates of the American detention facility at Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Juma Al Dossari, Salah Abdul Rasool Al Blooshi and Essa Al Murbati, all nationals of Bahrain. Three of Mr. Colangelo Bryan's clients have previously been released from American custody at Guantanamo Bay. The remaining three are in less than ideal condition; Al-Dossari attempted suicide during a meeting with Mr. Colangelo-Bryan (as alluded to in my interview with Baher Azmy) and Al Murbati is involved in the hunger strike by a number of detainees. The following are my interview notes as reviewed and, as necessary, corrected by Mr. Colangelo Bryan.

The Talking Dog: As is my custom, I start with this question. Where were you on September 11, 2001?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: I was in Gracanica, Kosovo, working for the United Nations Mission to Kosovo. I learned of the events of September 11th later in the day, at the office in Pristina, where other people pointed it out, and I saw it on television, probably on CNN.

The Talking Dog: Are you from the New York area?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: Born and raised in Manhattan... the events of 9-11 were very personal to me.

The Talking Dog: Do you know where your clients were, and to the extent not classified or privileged, can you tell me?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: A couple of my clients were in Bahrain. A couple were in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border area, working with refugees there from the Afghan civil war; they had been there a couple of months as of September 11th.

The Talking Dog: How did you-- and your law firm-- come to represent the Bahrainian detainees specifically?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: After the Rasul case, the Center for Constitutional Rights asked Dorsey & Whitney if it would take on a case for the Guantanamo Bay detainees. At that time, a number of the families of detainees were seeking representation. One of those groups was from Bahrain. I personally had a couple of years working with and applying international human rights law and international criminal law in the Balkans, which was useful experience.

The Talking Dog: I recently read of an effort spearheaded by you to obtain representation for previously unrepresented Bahraini (and perhaps other) detainees before enactment of the Graham-Levin-Kyl Amendment. Were those efforts successful? Do you know, as of the time the President signed the bill into law, how many detainees did not have active cases, and would, under Senator Levin's reckoning at least, be completely without a habeas corpus remedy?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: There are no unrepresented Bahrainians [at Guantanamo]. There were six Bahraini detainees at Guantanamo Bay, three of whom have been transferred home to Bahrain. Before Graham Levin passed, the Center for Constitutional Rights brought an action on behalf of all unidentified detainees for whom no action was pending, so all detainees now have a pending action.

The Talking Dog: I've read a number of accounts of your client Juma Al-Dossari making a suicide attempt during a conference he had with you; in brief, if you could tell me how it has effected later meetings you have had with Mr. Al-Dossari (extra precautions, for example, or anything else that comes to mind)?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: I met with Juma three weeks after the suicide attempt. The meeting was in the naval hospital at Guantanamo. The military did not want to bring him to Camp Echo [where attorney client meetings are held] after the prior incident.

The Talking Dog: I've recently read that Mr. Al-Dossari tried to tear open a wound in his right arm (which, for whatever reason, the Government has decided is not a suicide attempt) and transferred to the Naval Hospital at Guantanamo Bay. You had filed court papers with Judge Reggie Walton, and I understand Judge Walton ordered the Government to produce an Affidavit as to the conditions of Mr. Al-Dossari's confinement. Did the Government submit it, have you seen it, and has anything changed? Can you tell me what the difference is between Delta Camp One, Delta Camp Five, and just how many separate "camps" there are within the X-Ray, Delta and other apparatus there, and what you understand the differences are? What is the condition (as far as you know) of your other clients still held? Are your clients participating in the hunger strike?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: Yes, I later learned that Juma tried to open the wound in his right open. The Government has characterized it as a suicide attempt. I have not met him since that event. The Government did send me a letter advising of this, but otherwise, the government provides no information whatsoever as to the condition of detainees. In this case, they sent a two sentence letter stating that Juma reopened the wound. The Government was ordered to produce an affidavit with the details of Juma’s conditions of confinement by Judge Walton. They have produced an affidavit, but at its essence it is hopelessly vague, without solid representations as to the extent, for example, of the isolation or solitary confinement at Camp One, which we believe is certainly a contributing factor to Juma’s deteriorating condition. As to the “layout” of detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Camp Delta consists of Camps 1, 2, 3 and 4, Camp 5 is an entirely separate prison, and Camp 6 is a “long term” facility still under construction. Camp 4 is the most “liberal” facility, where there are, for example, more exercise privileges allowed, for prisoners who are perceived as lower security risks. I’m not aware of any distinctions between Camps 1 through 3. Camp 5 is a maximum security facility with individual cells where the prisoners can’t see out; this is where Al-Dossari had been held for over 1 1⁄2 years. One of my clients– Al-Blooshi– is in Camp 4, as a “low security risk.” The allegations against him are weaker than against many prisoners who have been released. Al-Murbati is now in the detainee hospital, on a hunger strike. I did not meet him the last time I went to Guantanamo for, I was told, logistical reasons. Hopefully, I will see him the next time I go down.

The Talking Dog: I understand that at various times, the government releases some kind of letter or statement to you as the condition of Mr. Al-Dossari and your other clients; in discussions with your clients (again, to the extent not privileged or classified), is the government's descriptions accurate, or inaccurate, in the view of your client, and to the extent you have otherwise been able to confirm on your own?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: No explanation is ever given by the Government; the 2-sentence letter on Juma opening his wound was a rare exception.

The Talking Dog: Am I correct that some of your clients have been released (at the behest and request of the Bahrainian government) but three (Juma Al Dossari, Salah Abdul Rasool Al Blooshi and Essa Al Murbati) are still detained at Guantanamo Bay?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: Again, no explanation is ever given as to why prisoners are held, or prisoners are released. We have urged the Bahraini government to demand that its citizens be returned to Bahrain, and certainly we have been trying to generate publicity to encourage the Bahrainian government to do just that.

The Talking Dog: Judge Joyce Hens Green ruled around a year ago that the entire Guantanamo detention process was illegal, for among other reasons, violating the third Geneva Convention. Naturally, the government appealed that ruling. I understand that the Geneva Convention aspect was addressed by the D.C. Circuit in the Hamdan case, and the Supreme Court has, for the moment, accepted review in Hamdan. What is the status of remaining issues associated with the appeal of Judge Green's decision, and specifically, how it relates to your clients, and I take it this is all held up by Graham Levin?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: An appeal is still pending in the D.C. Circuit. It has been fully argued and briefed for months. The Graham Levin issue has created another subject for further briefing. By its own terms, Graham Levin does not apply to these cases, which have been pending for years. Even if, as the Government argues, it did, it would be unconstitutional for violating the suspension clause. Likely, if the Hamdan case addresses the Graham Levin issues, they will have bearing on our case.

The Talking Dog: I understand that Mr. Al-Dossari recently released a detailed testimony of his abuse, both in custody in Afghanistan and later in Cuba, that you provided to Amnesty International. I take it that even this statement had to be vetted by the United States government (for secret codes, I suppose!) before you could release it, correct? I understand the same applies to your own notes; I understand that in one case at least, the government lost your notes in transit from Cuba to Virginia; was a suit filed or other action taken over that? Mr. Al-Dossari's testimonial is pretty graphic [including allegations of a number of beatings, application of electric shocks, starvation, sleep deprivation and other abuses]. Can you characterize any other abuse that you're aware of that he did not document?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: I fought quite a bit to have that statement cleared, and ultimately, despite Government opposition, it was cleared in large measure. Some portions of some pages have been redacted as classified. Juma did not write this in front of me. It is a 20 page, single spaced handwritten document. He was allowed to keep it and give it to me. Interestingly, prisoners have been permitted to keep “attorney client” communication documents, though materials have been taken if shown to another prisoner on the theory that they are no longer privileged; so much for the joint defense privilege. The government did indeed lose my notes. What happened was some motion practice that appears to have somehow gotten lost between Judge Green and Judge Walton demanding that the Government reimburse us for the costs of another trip to Guantanamo– around $5,000– including transportation, translators and so forth– for what amounts to its own error. There is no resolution on that motion. As to additional details, Juma obviously didn’t discuss details we have learned from governmental personnel about the conditions of his confinement, as he doesn’t know what we have discovered in that manner.

The Talking Dog: I understand that the only evidence the government purports to have by way of "a charge" against Mr. Al-Dossari is that he was "present at Tora Bora". Has the government ever expanded or provided more detail for its statement of charges-- whether in classified form or public form? Are you aware of any further charges against him? I understand that there were reports out of the Buffalo Evening News a number of years ago that Mr. Al-Dossari was a reputed Al Qaeda recruiter who may have approached the defendants in the "Lackawanna Six" case. Has the government made any reference to that as far as a basis to detain Mr. Al-Dossari? Has any effort been made to obtain evidence from Mr. Al-Dossari with respect to that Lackawanna Six case, or any other legal action?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: The Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) expressly found that there was no evidence to support this Lackawanna Six connection, and it was expressly not a basis for his continued detention. An interview with at least one of the Lackawanna Six in prison revealed that that defendant had never so much as met Mr. Al-Dossari. I understand that he was also questioned at Guantanamo about this.

The Talking Dog: Do you know what the charges or allegations of the Government are with respect to your other clients still detained? What are they? What were the charges against the clients who were released? Was there any rationale, rhyme or reason or explanation given for why some were released, and some still held?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: Again, other than the limited (if any) explanations given by the CSRT, there is absolutely no explanation ever given of why anyone is detained, or why anyone is released.

The Talking Dog: Do you know who Abdullah Mesud is (leading a guerrilla movement in Pakistan)? Are you aware of allegations that Mahmoud Habib trained AQ in hand to hand combat? Any explanation for why he gets released, and your other clients get released, but Al-Dossari, Al-Blooshi and Al-Murbati are not? Do you think this is a fundamental problem with the arbitrariness of the whole process? Any way we can convince the public that it is the arbitrariness- and not the release- that is the problem?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: Well, how does one reconcile the detention of my clients on the thinnest of accusations, while releasing an Australian who allegedly trained Al Qaeda terrorists including the 9-11 hijackers in martial arts and hand to hand combat–

The Talking Dog: You’re referring to Mahmoud Habib... who was released just ahead of proceedings in an action complaining of his side trip to Egypt for “extraordinary rendition” where he alleges he was tortured...

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: Exactly... Or a number of British prisoners who were released because Tony Blair insisted that it was politically necessary for him that they be released, a similar situation that has occurred with other European governments. By contrast, very few prisoners from Arab countries have been released. I am familiar with Abdullah Mesud in passing and from reading about him– but the fact that he is released, and my clients continue to be held just shows that there is no rhyme or reason to the system that has been set up.

The Talking Dog: Anything else that I should have asked you, or that my readers, the American public, the Bahraini public, or anyone else needs to know about your representations, or anything else?

Joshua Colangelo Bryan: We should all know that by our military’s own admissions, there are innocent men at Guantanamo Bay, and they have been horrifically abused. Not only is this legally and ethically disastrous, it is bad strategically, and ultimately, politically counterproductive.

The Talking Dog: I’m sure I join all of my readers in saying thank you for that most informative interview.

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