On September 11 of last year, I wrote a post here about where American freedom stood at that moment. The post included the story of Omar Khadr, a teenage detainee at Guantanamo Bay:
An hour or two later they came back, checked the tautness of his chains and pushed him over on his stomach. Transfixed in his bonds, Omar toppled like a figurine. Again they left. Many hours had passed since Omar had been taken from his cell. He urinated on himself and on the floor. The MPs returned, mocked him for a while and then poured pine-oil solvent all over his body. Without altering his chains, they began dragging him by his feet through the mixture of urine and pine oil. Because his body had been so tightened, the new motion racked it. The MPs swung him around and around, the piss and solvent washing up into his face. The idea was to use him as a human mop. When the MPs felt they’d successfully pretended to soak up the liquid with his body, they uncuffed him and carried him back to his cell. He was not allowed a change of clothes for two days.
Yesterday NPR featured a story on Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, the Marine attorney who defended Khadr, who is retiring next year. (Found via Daily Kos, “One fewer good man“.)
By all accounts, Vokey is a Marine’s Marine.
“Colby Vokey?” muses retired Col. Jane Siegel “Integrity almost seems like a word too small to describe him.”
Says Lt. Col. Matthew Cord, “He’s just one of the best.”
But Vokey is retiring because he is, in his words, “fed up.” And his revelations about Guantanamo are startling, albeit nothing new to a lot of us.
The U.S. has imprisoned hundreds of “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo Bay in a military legal system that Vokey denounces as “horrific.” Vokey saw the system first-hand when he agreed two years ago to defend a teenager there who had been charged with murdering a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. Vokey said he knew the case would be difficult, but he discovered that the legal system at Guantanamo is a “sham.”
Vokey said the military staff constantly harassed him and interfered with his defense work by making it difficult even to meet with his client or show his client the government’s evidence against him. The teenager confessed to killing the soldier, but he told Vokey he confessed after being shackled for hours in excruciating positions and bombarded by screeching music and flashing lights.
FBI agents have reported seeing detainees treated in similar ways and investigators at human rights groups have reported evidence suggesting that detainees are routinely abused.
Vokey calls the system “disgraceful.”
“Anytime you want to subvert the rule of law to the power of a government, you’ve got a very bad thing brewing,” Vokey told NPR. “As an officer in the Marine Corps I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. And now we are perpetrating something that if any other country in the world was doing, we would likely step in and stop it.”
After speaking out, Vokey was fired as the chief of defense counsels for the western United States.
But when former Marine Corps lawyers heard about Vokey’s firing, they were incensed. Siegel said Vokey’s firing sent a chilling message that some officials don’t want military lawyers to defend the Constitution too vigorously.
“I believe that Colby Vokey was pulled out of his position because he’s doing too good a job,” Siegel said. “I think that the people in Washington, D.C., don’t like that.”
After Siegel and other well-known lawyers wrote a blistering letter of protest about Vokey’s firing and lobbied top commanders at Marine headquarters, officials backed down and reinstated him. But critics say the Corps is just doing damage control because officials know that Vokey is planning to leave on his own.
Mind you, Vokey is the attorney who vigorously defended eight Marines accused of killing unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq. He is not one of the usual suspects. He’s a Marine, and he considers what he has seen to be “disgraceful.”
How many voices will it take until enough Americans know that our freedoms and principles are in serious danger?
Update- Thursday, 2:30pm EDT: I intended to include a link to the NPR story but forgot. Here it is.
Andy in Harrisburg