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Hunt: Talking Dog Interview, June 28, 2007

Talking Dog Blog Interview
June 28, 2007

Gaillard Hunt is an attorney in private practice in Silver Spring, Maryland. Mr. Hunt represents Pakistani national Saifullah Paracha, a businessman and father of four who was detained by American officials at an airport in Bangkok, Thailand in July 2003, where he was abducted, and in a pattern consistent with other so-called extraordinary renditions, had his clothing removed, and was thrust on a waiting plane and taken to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where he was interrogated for over a year, and then moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been detained ever since. Mr. Paracha suffers from heart disease requiring treatment that does not appear to be available at Guantanamo. On June 27, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Hunt by telephone. What follows are my interview notes corrected as appropriate by Mr. Hunt.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001, and as far as you know, where was your client, Saifullah Paracha?

Gaillard Hunt: I was at home in suburban Maryland that day, though I found out about the attacks right away. I don't have a good 9-11 story... I was supposed to meet someone for lunch downtown, and for quite a while, believed I could keep the appointment until it became clear that no one was going downtown. As to Mr. Paracha, I don't know exactly where he was-- though he was probably in his office in Karachi, Pakistan. I actually haven't talked to him about that. I know that he has many relatives in New York, and his nephew Tausif happened to right in the area of the World Trade Center and literally ran for his life after the attacks.

The Talking Dog: How did you come to represent Mr. Paracha? Please tell me your personal impressions of Mr. Paracha from meeting him, and your impressions of his family members (to the extent that you've met or spoken to them), and your impressions of other individuals (government personnel, including medical personnel, and otherwise) that you encountered at Guantanamo Bay?

Gaillard Hunt: I contacted a New York group called Human Rights First-- not the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been active in getting so many other prisoners' counsel. I've spoken to a number of his family members. Certainly his wife has taken this very hard, though she has rallied and tried to run the family businesses. His daugher Muneeza, who is around 24, has been very helpful. You should be aware that he also has a son who was arrested, tried and sentenced to 30 years in federal court in Manhattan for aiding and abetting terrorism.

The Talking Dog: As far as you are aware, what is it Mr. Paracha is accused of (whether from the CSRT reports or any other non-classified basis you have to answer that question)? Again, to the extent you can tell me, what is his response to that? Has Mr. Paracha either been proposed for military commissions charges, or "cleared for release"?

Gaillard Hunt: From the unclassified CSRT itself, there is a list of around 10 items... the legal position we have taken is that while they may make him guilty of arguably bad things, none of them makes him in any way a combatant or a terrorist. The CSRT accuses him of discussing where Al Qaeda could acquire an atomic bomb. His response was-- "Can you buy one off the shelf? Will Tony Blair sell me one?" His view is that it is a ridiculous question--and he denied having any such discussions.

Other allegations include having talked to Osama bin Laden and associating with people who are now "high value detainees". Well, it turns out that he did indeed talk to OBL... among Paracha's interests include being a t.v. producer in Pakistan. He was in Afghanistan for that purpose, and was trying to get a public audience with OBL to ask if his program could interview him. On one occasion when he managed to actually reach bin Laden, the response was that bin Laden would "think about it", meaning probably not.

He was also accused of having contact with three others who are now so-called "high value" detainees, Khalid Sheik Mohammad, Al-Balluchi and Majid Khan. Paracha does not deny meeting them, but his response is that they approached him in Pakistan in the context of his businesses and in the course of seeking investment opportunities... They never told him of their terrorist connections, and he says he was quite shocked when he later saw that they were accused of terrorism.

The circumstantial evidence supports this. Given his general background-- he lived in the United States for 16 years himself, was generally quite out-spokenly pro-American and against terrorism... and he had visible businesses-- he would be the last person in Karachi anyone would disclose their terrorist connections or plans to.

As far as I know, he may be among the 60 or 80 detainees "designated eligible" for military commissions, though, of course, he has never to this day been charged or afforded any opportunity for a fair hearing of the allegations against him.

The Talking Dog: Please describe the circumstances of Mr. Paracha's apprehension (or rendition, or perhaps, kidnapping) into American custody, and have you investigated further the circumstances of that rendition (e.g. flight logs)?

Gaillard Hunt: As he was not picked up in Pakistan, and openly lived there for years after September 11th, this leads me to believe that the Pakistani government believed it was not appropriate to pick him up. I understand that the FBI got Paracha's business partner in New York to lure him to go to Bangkok, telling him he had to go there to meet buyers from K-Mart. Once he landed there, he was immediately set upon by a group of masked men, who grabbed him and put him through the usual rendition procedure -- hung him on hooks while they removed his clothes by cutting, did not feed him for two or three days, and flew him to Bagram Air Base.

The Talking Dog: Please describe (again, using any non-classified basis to tell me) what abuses Mr. Paracha has suffered in American custody, including but not limited to the denial of needed medical care? Has the grant or denial of care been conditioned on "cooperation" in interrogations?

Gaillard Hunt: When he was interrogated, he told them he would tell them his whole story if they'd shut up and listen to it... as a result, he was deemed "cooperative" and never out-and-out tortured. Nonetheless, his treatment was egregious.

In Bagram, he was held in a big hangar, and the detainees were held in separate pens without slop buckets, nor were they let out to use lavatory facilities, resulting in serious concerns about when and how to drink water... None of this made much sense except in the context of trying to control an overall interrogation procedure and create a sense of "powerlessness" in the detainees.

After Bagram, Paracha was moved... he's not sure where exactly, though Clive Stafford Smith has been instrumental in investigating detainee movements. Paracha, of course, was blindfolded and not told where he was being sent; we think we have pieced it together from other things: a bunch of people were released to Pakistan in September, 2004... it appeared that the plane that took them to Pakistan from Guantanamo continued on to Bagram, and then back to Guantanamo, with 6 or 7 other people aboard.

As to Paracha's medical care, that became a major issue, and still is. For that, we went through the court system first, and, unsuccessfully tried to get some relief. He has a heart condition-- a bad one. He is the youngest of ten children, and 5 of the ten have died before 65 of heart problems, and he is nearing 60. He has chest pains, and he has begun passing out. The doctors at Guantanamo say he needs a cardiac catheterization-- though at the detention camp, the best they can do is perform it on the equivalent of a kitchen table with no reasonable assurances of safe or appropriate care. The military's insists that all four limbs be shackled to the bed after the procedure is performed. The military's own cardiologists have said is not recommended, because the patient needs to be able to move around while he's recovering. Paracha has refused the catheterization there, and there is now a stand-off, as the government won't permit him to be moved for treatment anywhere else, even to another secure military facility. The government has thus far not permitted any direct statements from the military doctors... just generalized statement of his conditions. The contention that Guantanamo detainees get "better medical treatment" than they would in their home countries is absolute nonsense.

The Talking Dog: How have American courts and the military responded to efforts to afford Mr. Paracha proper medical care? Have you brought your entreaties to Congress and/or the Pakistani government, and what has happened with that?

Gaillard Hunt: The courts have not intervened; this is indicative of two stories. For one, the American people have rolled over, and let this happen... this sort of thing has happened throughout our history from time to time in the face of various events and crises. But the courts rolled over too... that is unexpected. I brought my habeas corpus petition in November 2004, and as it was one of the earliest petitions, I actually got a full factual return from the government outlining its contentions. And yet, just 3 or 4 months later-- the district judge stayed the whole thing and shut down the case, until a higher court sets the course for how these things go-- in effect, this was a judicial suspension of habeas corpus. This was Judge Friedman of the D.C. District Court-- a Clinton appointee and a well regarded judge. But the significance of this story is the complete and total absence of the courts at any level below the Supreme Court. And yet, whenever we get to the Supreme Court-- by 5-4 or 6-3 -- the Supreme Court says "the government can't do this." Why won't a District Court judge have the courage to say the same thing? I am reminded of Samuel Sewall who ran the witch trials at Salem... he eventuially acknowledged that he had made mistakes... after a few hangings... but he came around!

The Talking Dog: Can you comment on media coverage of Mr. Paracha's case in particular and Guantanamo Bay and American detention policy in the so-called Global War on Terror in general?

Gaillard Hunt: I am equally outraged and puzzled by the media coverage. Why is it reporters, and members of Congress for that matter, are willing to go to Guantanamo, even though they are told ahead of time they can't talk to detainees? What is the value of that? They are being fed government propaganda, and they treat it as "reporting" or "fact-finding". D.C.'s delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has gone down a few times... and I wonder why. And even when journalists go, they are kept on the opposite side of the Bay from the lawyers, so they can't hear the detainees' version of what's going on.

The Talking Dog: Has the reception you have received in the courts (or from the military) changed in any manner since the Hamdan case supposedly set a standard that all detainees were subject to minimal treatment as "other persons" within the Geneva Conventions? Same question, after the Military Commissions Act of 2006?

Gaillard Hunt: There has been no difference after the Military Commissions Act, because we never got anything from the courts anyway! Our habeas is still pending, and the protective order I have obtained from the earlier proceeding is somewhat better than later ones; Paracha's status is still up in the air... other people (from the Covington & Burling firm, who are assisting me on this) are going to speak to him right now. I had filed one of the first petitions under the Detainee Treatment Act, so we may be first in the judicial line, if that process gets anywhere.

The Talking Dog: Have you participated in the recent Congressional lobbying efforts by GTMO habeas attorneys?

Gaillard Hunt: On May 1st, I joined others to lobby on the Hill. I must say the general reaction of Congress has been incomprehensible... we are only trying to restore the right of habeas corpus. The Military Commissions Act is not limited to Guantanamo. It abolishes habeas corpus for all non-citizens everywhere.

The Talking Dog: Can you comment on the seemingly coordinated effort by the government against lawyers, from Cully Stimson's remarks encouraging retaliation against habeas lawyers to efforts to limit client visits? Has your practice been affected by this, and if you can, how has your practice been affected by your representation of Mr. Paracha?

Gaillard Hunt: I have yet to run into anyone who does not think I am anything but a knight in shining armor. I undertook this representation because I thought it would be interesting... I didn't thinnk it would be all consuming for two years, or go on this long. But in some sense, we attorneys are protecting the value of our licenses-- to protect the courts' right to decide who gets locked up. Being a lawyer is less valuable if the government can just go around and lock people up without recourse to courts and lawyers.

As to Cully Stimson, he was immediately damned in the New York Times, Washington Post and every other major media outlet... indeed, it cost him his job. And he was not a bad guy, I understand-- he had been a prosecutor in D.C., and the last time he got press, he was on the right side- arguing for leniency for a quadriplegic convicted of minor marijuana possession who the judge wanted to make an example of and send to jail for ten days... but the judge sent the man to jail and he died.

I will say that the people in the DOD Office of Detainee Affairs-- Cully's old office-- are not exactly easy to deal with, either before or since his departure.

The Talking Dog: What do you view as the ultimate "exit strategy" for GTMO, and its detainees...via the courts, or legislation, or something else... and do you see one prior to Pres. Bush and V.P. Cheney leaving office?

Gaillard Hunt: I really like that question... but I don't know the answer. I think the whole thing was originally intended to replcate North Korean and Chinese methods of interrogation during the Korean War... but once it came out in public... it seemed to all come apart. At this point, who knows why... maybe they think they have a tiger by the tail and can't let it go... but at this point, it is a stupid, self-defeating policy... even the Secretary of Defense wants to shut it down... so then, why doesn't he, and move the detainees to military facilities in this country...?

The Talking Dog: Of course, isn't it true that the Vice President wants to do this apparently simply to show that he (or the executive anyway) can?

Gaillard Hunt: Given what has come out about the Vice President in the Washington Post of late, we certainly can't discount that at this point he is the main proponent of continuing this policy.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else the American and international public needs to be aware of concerning Mr. Paracha and the subjects we discussed?

Gaillard Hunt: No, your questions have all been on the right track. The short answer is that we just have to, finally, once and for all, give these men some kind of real fair and impartial hearing. Period.

The Talking Dog: On behalf of all of my readers, I thank Mr. Hunt for that informative interview.

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