Interview with David Remes
by Hakim Almasmari
July 21, 2008
YEMEN POST: What progress have the lawyers of Yemeni prisoners in Guantanamo achieved over the last couple of months?
David Remes: I believe that we are raising awareness of the fact that Yemenis account for more than a third of the total number of prisoners. Most of the prisoners do not pose any danger to society, and we try to clarify that Yemen is the only country that has not reached an agreement with the United States. This is what we try to raise in the eyes of the people, government, and media.
YP: As lawyers, over the last three months what have you done? We have heard a lot of talk, but what actions have you done?
DR: As I said, from one angle we raise the awareness of the people and adding to that we have done a good job in placing great pressure on the Bush administration concerning the prisoners.
YP: When was the last time you met the detainees in Guantanamo?
DR: I was in Guantanamo last month and I am going back there again in mid August. When I was there in June, I met with eight Yemeni detainees.
YP: What did they tell you?
DR: They said that in addition to the bad conditions they face everyday, they now go through constant physical body searches. They are searched before they enter every room. The search involves pulling down their trousers and having guard’s hands enter inside their underwear, and that is a terrible violation of the personal dignity of these men in particular, and because of their religious beliefs they feel strongly offended and increases their misery. Another complain that they told me was the punishment of forced nudity they were forced to go through. This clearly violates the Geneva Convention. This is all humiliation. In addition, it seems that this humiliation is done for the sake of humiliation. It is not physical torture only, but physiological torture as well.
YP: Did you speak to them in private of did you have guards watching you?
DR: We always speak to them in private, but we know that we are being watched and listened to. We assume our conversations are being monitored, because the government believes that the mission of the lawyers is a hostile mission, but we cannot allow this to prevent us from doing our duty and job.
YP: How do you expect the prisoners to be honest with you and tell you everything if they know that they are being watched and listened to?
DR: We all have to take some risk. In addition, when they discuss with us, the things we talk about are not sensitive or secret, they are things that the press already knows. Most of the talk that goes between us is on matters that are known to the public, but just giving it in more clarity and details.
YP: From a scale of 1 to 100, where do you evaluate Yemen’s works towards the effort that is needed to ensure the release of the Yemeni detainees?
DR: I can say 20 only.
YP: How many Yemenis have returned from Guantanamo until today?
DR: I think the number is something between 12-15, and that is considerably low comparing with other prisoners from other countries. 90% of the total Saudi’s have returned back home, while less than 10 percent of the Yemenis.
YP: Some prisoners have not yet been convicted by the U.S. government, so why does the United States condition that Yemen treat them as war criminals when they have no convictions yet?
DR: I believe that from the standpoint of the United States, this is a matter of principal. It had not found any of the men guilty but they believe that they were and could be hostile to the United States, and even capable to motivate others to harm the United States. When they come back to Yemen, the U.S. wants certain measures to be practiced in order to limit their ability to do any danger.
YP: Is this legal?
DR: What the United States is doing is legal, and it is a sort of politics. Yemen is under no legal obligation to accept what The U.S. wants.
YP: Last month a delegation from the United States arrived in Sana’a to discuss the matter of the Guantanamo detainees. The Americans wanted guarantees that the suspects will undergo a rehabilitation program. How do you accept such people to forget all the torture they went through over the last six years, and live as if it never happened?
DR: The United States wants them to go through a rehabilitation program to ensure them a place back in society. However, we believe that most of those imprisoned are innocent and are not extremists or part of a criminal gang, so why should such people be forced to go through rehabilitation programs when they do not need it. The program that America wants the men to go through does not apply for them. You make a good point by saying that if you brutalize a man in Guantanamo, how can you expect him to forget that and live on with his life.
YP: When both sides met in Sana’a last month they did not come up with an agreement, what were the main points of differences between them?
DR: The point that I am sure was not agreed upon is the condition of the sort of security measures after the men come back. Because the United States considers them dangerous, they want them to be monitored carefully by the Yemeni government. However, the Yemeni government is saying that they do not have the resources to monitor all of them all the time and everywhere they go. Yemen is saying to the United States that we are not going to take your word that these men are dangerous and we need proof if you want us to monitor them. Meanwhile the American government refuses to hand in any sort of proof against the imprisoned men, and asks Yemen to trust them on the matter without the need to show proof.
YP: In general, your evaluation to the court hearings that the prisoners stood in front of, have they been fair?
DR: The prisoners have not stood in front of a civil court yet, and have only stood in front of a military court, which has not been fair towards them at all. The military court rules for the benefit of the government. I hope that soon they will be given the chance to stand in front of a civil court.
YP: Ramzi bin Shaibah, a Yemeni citizen in Guantanamo, refused to be represented by the lawyers, claiming that he does not trust them, what is your comment on that?
DR: It's difficult to explain the motive behind why he said that. Everyone has the right to have or refuse having a lawyer, and there are benefits for both. A lawyer will explain to you what he thinks you need to do, while if a person represents himself he will have the ability to talk for himself in court. Some feel that they are more capable to talk for themselves than have someone else talk for them. I cannot tell you why he refused to have a lawyer, and we respect his point of view. If a detainee would have asked me if he should be represented by a lawyer or represent himself, I would directly tell him that there are pros and cons for each one of those choices, and here are the pros and here are the cons and you have to make your own decision on the matter.
YP: Do you think that they will leave prison by the end of the year?
DR: No, I do not think so. I believe that they will be trialed first.
YP: Have any of the prisoners you represented left prison?
DR: One of them left prison last year, and two others were approved for release last year, but I do not know why they are still being held.
YP: Now what?
DR: All we can do is raise our voices and make people understand what the prisoners are going through. Pressure from the people puts pressure on the government. We have to continue what we have been doing and hope that we move the rock just a little bit.
YP: Have any of your Yemeni clients in Guantanamo tried to commit suicide?
DR: Not that I am aware of. We did have a number of clients who were on a hunger strike and did so a number of times in protest to the way they were being treated.
YP: You mentioned that when you visited Guantanamo last month you met eight of your Yemeni clients, while you also mentioned that you represent 15. Where were the other seven whom you represent?
DR: I did not have time to meet all of them. In addition, there are five of my clients who have refused to talk to me even though I represent them. I think that one reason why some of them refused to meet lawyers is because the guards of the prison mention negative things about the lawyers, and they make them feel that they are being tricked by the lawyers, rather than getting help.
YP: You said that there are five of your clients that you have not seen yet, so why do you consider yourself their representatives when they refused to even meet you?
DR: We have authority from their families to represent them.
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