Hats off to GottaLaff at The Political Carnival for her work on bringing this travesty of justice to light, and for prodding David Shuster to put Gitmo lawyer Barry Wingard on the air to tell his client's story. Hats off to David Shuster as well for recognizing that this was something that has flown below the radar of most of the main stream media and deserved to be covered. You can read more on her exchange with Shuster via Twitter here.
Prior to this interview, Barry Wingard had given up on the media being willing to allow the public know what has happened to his client and why he ended up in Gitmo in the first place. From GottaLaff:
I recently watched a chunk of so-called cable “news”. A tiff between Sarah Palin and David Letterman monopolized all three hours.
Meanwhile, not one word was uttered about a Kuwaiti man named Fayiz al-Kandari who has been “detained” (read: tortured) in three different prisons for nearly 8 years.
I’ve had the good fortune to talk with Al-Kandari’s lawyer. I’d link to his op-eds, but I can’t, because, despite commitments from major newspapers, they were never published. I’ll provide substantial quotes from him, instead.
With that, allow me to introduce you to Barry Wingard and Fayiz al-Kandari:
Major Barry D. Wingard, Jr.: Judge Advocate General (JAG), Public Defender (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Office of General Counsel, Guantanamo Bay, Defense Attorney, and so much more. His stellar resume gleams with awards and decorations as a result of 25 years of service in the U.S. military. He has prosecuted more than 100 cases in Baghdad, and has also investigated crimes in Bosnia.
[H]e signed on to handle detainee cases expecting to encounter the "worst of the worst." … [B]ut the justice system at Guantanamo, not the detainees, represented that worst. [...] [He] expected to work within a military justice system similar to the ones in which [he'd] spent [his] career. Instead, [he] said, [he] found a chaotic environment in which cases were tainted by questionable interrogation techniques and evidence was scattered, missing, of questionable origin or simply unavailable. For the … experienced JAG officer, working in a system that [he] considered to be so lacking in proper legal procedures was frustrating and disturbing. [He is] among a handful of military attorneys who have chosen to risk their careers by publicly voicing criticisms of the Military Commissions, which face an uncertain future.
But he can’t get to square one with American newspapers. Moving on… Introducing:
Fayiz al-Kandari: Kuwaiti detainee at Gitmo. He studied law in the United Arab Emirates and is from a well-to-do family, has a long history of doing charity work, and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He has consistently maintained his innocence (he was on a charity mission and was sold into custody, not nabbed on the battlefield).
Now. Why am I (as opposed to say, the New York Times) the one putting this story out? Allow me to quote Major Wingard:
“I’ve given up on American media.”
While he does just fine by Al Jazeera and AFP overseas, here in the good ol’ U. S. of A., he can’t, for lack of better words, get arrested. The media is much too busy with Palin, Miss California, Palin, and Jon & Kate Plus 8. And Palin. Looks like Brian Williams and Newsweek are getting scooped by Middle Easterners and the French. Et moi.
Now back to our story, already in progress:
Al-Kandari went to Afghanistan in 2001 to provide humanitarian aid. But oops, his bounty hunters made some quick cash at his expense:
The evidence that has kept Fayiz locked up without charges for more than seven years is razor thin and questionable at best. Despite being subjected to harsh treatment and enhanced interrogation techniques, Fayiz’s story has remained consistent.
Let’s recap: Some guy made a couple of afghanis by selling Fayiz to our guys so that the thug-infested Bush administration could justify their fraudulent little war and all its torture-y perks.
And what did Fayiz get? This:
While in U.S. custody in Kabul in December 2001, Al-Kandari was shackled in various stress positions for as long as 36 hours at a time. He was beaten with a chain and water hose. Photographs documenting his condition have not been released.
In early 2002, Al-Kandari was transferred to Bagram and held in a roofed tent with no sides where overnight temperatures typically reached below freezing. Photographs again documented his condition, but they have never been released. […] He was transferred to Kandahar in early 2002, … [where] his entire body was shaved (except for a cross on his chest, which was later shaved off) and he was initially kept awake in solitary confinement for five straight days. The abuse continued and resulted in broken ribs and severe bruising documented by medical exams performed months later. Before being placed on the plane out of Kandahar, his sound-proof headgear was lifted and a female voice whispered, “You are going to hell in GTMO.” At the time, he was also drugged, sandbagged, and placed into a head harness for the 24 hour trip. At Guantanamo, he was again shackled into stress positions for extended periods of time. He was also urinated on and subjected to sleep deprivation, strobe lights, ear piercing music, cell extractions, and extreme heat and cold conditions in his cell via temperature controls. All told, Al-Kandari has been interrogated approximately 400 times and abused throughout the time he was in U.S. custody.
Wait, sidebar: I smell a reason for releasing those pesky torture photos everyone's talking about… evidence. Sidebar over. So… all that torture must have worked, right? I mean, who could withstand that kind of abuse and not spill what’s left of their guts, because, you know, “some” say torture works and-- What’s that? Sorry, something’s coming through my imaginary earpiece:
A Department of Defense legal review of Al-Kandari’s case found the evidence against him “is made up almost entirely of hearsay evidence recorded by unidentified individuals with no first hand knowledge of the events they describe.”
In short, the U.S. learned nothing of value from its abusive treatment of Al-Kandari and in all likelihood exculpatory materials confirming Al-Kandari’s whereabouts and accounts of abuse will be classified and withheld from public view.
Oh. So what options are available to Fayiz and those like him? Not many. It all boils down to those infamous military commissions, Wingard's skills, and a judge who will believe Fayiz's testimony, because with the word “classified” popping up everywhere, that's all detainees like him have. Sidebar #2: Per Barry Wingard, "the military is not behind the commissions." Sidebar #2 over. However, Major Wingard did share one silver lining with me: He could get a sympathetic judge. Maybe. If he's lucky. But—and there’s always a pesky but-- delays and more delays are kicking that silver-lined opportunity down the road, and Fayiz is still in prison. But at least he has one hell of a caring, persistent, ethical lawyer.
Vice-President Cheney insists that enhanced interrogations were only used on “hardened terrorists” after other efforts failed, that such efforts prevented the deaths of thousands, and that the U.S. never lost its moral bearings in its treatment of detainees. Al-Kandari is living proof he is wrong on all counts.
Sadly, being right just isn't enough.This is one of many familiar stories that you've undoubtedly heard before. Let's get this one some attention. Having "private" sympathy for someone in this horrific situation isn't enough. Please take the time you'd spend being frustrated or feeling compassion for Fayiz, and invest it in a phone call or e-mail to your local paper and/or Congressperson. Make a difference. Please.
Sometimes the Villagers actually do actually do pay attention and a story this important makes its way up to the main stream media from somewhere besides The Drudge Report or Politico. Very nice to see for once.