JTF head attorney sets record straight
on detainee abuse allegations

Story by Army Spc. Shanita Simmons
JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Oct. 31, 2007 – In a telephone conversation Oct. 30 with Dave Davies of National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air,” Joint Task Force Guantanamo’s head attorney, Navy Capt. Patrick M. McCarthy addressed allegations of detainee mistreatment and legal injustice at Guantanamo’s detention facilities.

McCarthy said one of the only glimpses the world gets into the activities of the JTF Guantanamo is seen through the eyes of habeas attorneys who visit to represent detainees. Since many of these attorneys hold biases against the detention of detainees here, McCarthy said the information they share with the world regarding the JTF mission often includes opinions based on preconceived notions.

Joint Task Force Guantanamo’s lead attorney, Navy Capt. Patrick M. McCarthy, briefs a member of his staff. The JTF’s Staff Judge Advocate’s office is responsible for providing habeas and defense attorneys access to detainees they represent and for providing support to the JTF and other organizations. (JTF Guantanamo photo by Army Spc. Shanita Simmons)

“Guantanamo has been [incorrectly] painted as a place where detainees are sent and are held incognito, [a place] where they lack access to courts, their family members and the media,” said McCarthy, whose primary task is to provide legal advice to the JTF commander here. “We are holding those individuals here who should be held based on the fact that they are enemy combatants, and they continue to pose a threat to the United States.”

During the “Fresh Air” interview, McCarthy explained that the JTF mission is to detain alleged enemy combatants, including war criminals in accordance with applicable international and U.S. laws, as well as U.S. Department of Defense rules and regulations. This year alone, JTF attorneys coordinated approximately 1,100 lawyer visits where they provided the transportation and logistical support necessary to assist the habeas attorneys. In addition, the Staff Judge Advocate office currently is involved in multiple cases at the U.S. Supreme Court and many are litigated at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The SJA staff communicates with habeas attorneys on a daily basis concerning the applicable legal process and to help provide sufficient opportunities for them to communicate with the detainee(s) they represent. McCarthy noted that his office is also in constant communication with Office of Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants to ensure they have the support necessary to conduct their mission of executing combatant status review tribunals and administrative review boards.

“We have 300 or so detainees represented by counsel and all of the detainees have been advised of their right to representation by counsel upon request. Per the Detainee Treatment Act, detainees have also been advised that they can challenge their enemy combatant status during a review tribunal,” said McCarthy.

Despite the SJA’s best efforts, McCarthy said that critics such as Clive Stafford Smith, a prominent habeas attorney and author of a recently published book, continue to allege that attorneys here fail to protect detainees from abuse by interrogators and fail to provide detainees adequate assurances of safety once they are released.

“When we do find that a person is no longer an enemy combatant, we must first seek some assurances that they are not mistreated before releasing them to their native country. If we are unable to get those assurances, then the detainee must be relocated to another country,” said McCarthy. “We have relations with certain countries that will receive their nationals from Guantanamo Bay and assist them with re-assimilation into society in positive ways. Although we say that some people will be detained until the end of hostilities, it is our hope that the number of people held for a long period of detention is reduced to the absolute minimum possible.”

In response to allegations of abuse occurring during interrogations, McCarthy defended the Troopers and civilians who work diligently to maintain a humane and safe environment for their staff and the detainees held at JTF Guantanamo.

“We do not have a separate class of Americans that come down here working on behalf of our country. These Americans are coming from the same high schools, neighborhoods, and colleges that other Americans attend. These depictions of ham-fisted attempts to get detainees to speak are simply not a part of any type of contemporary reality.”