Hi there! I'm [James Connell](www.imgur.com/kfHr30O), a civilian death penalty defense attorney in the Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions. My client is Ammar al Baluchi, who is best known as the "Ammar" whose torture is depicted in the movie Zero Dark Thirty. I've worked on this case, and only this case, since 2011. Al Baluchi was tortured in black sites for several years before his transfer in 2006 into supermax-level facilities at Guantanamo, where he is still awaiting trial.

There's no shortage of topics here, but to give you all some ideas - Guantanamo detentions, CIA torture, overclassification and secret evidence, political interference in the trial, military bureaucracy, intelligence-gathering, international law, and what it's like defending a massive, incredibly complex case in a brand-new, still mostly-untested legal system that was, frankly, designed for getting a conviction in the very case we're now trying.

Here's a 2014 video Interview I did on torture and classification, and a more recent interview on how I ended up working on the 9/11 trial, and the difficulties of trying to work in the military commissions system. My team Twitter handle is @BaluchiGitmo, and I am a contributor to the @GitmoWatch Twitter account.

I'll answer any questions as best I can, keeping in mind that I can't discuss classified information - which can include things which might already be widely known but were never officially released by the US Government (ie, I can't discuss anything from wikileaks). And I have to preface by stating that I represent only my client, Ammar al-Baluchi, and although I am paid by the US government, I (clearly) don't represent their views or opinions. Nothing I say in this thread is based on classified information.

1540 29 MAR 2016 edit: I am signing off now. Many thanks for all the insightful questions. For more information about the military commissions, follow @GitmoWatch and @CarolRosenberg on Twitter.

Comments: 172 • Responses: 72  • Date: 

gerritvb16 karma

a civilian death penalty defense attorney in the Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions.

So, you're acting as a public defender of sorts? How does that even work in the extra-judicial bizarroworld of Gitmo?

How do you deal with the stress and uncertainty on a professional level?

IAAL and do things which, relative to your work, are very low pressure, and yet I am still often very stressed out simply due to the desire to get things right and do the best I can for my client(s). I just can't imagine what it must be like to have such high stakes.

connell-law26 karma

Yes, I am sort of a public defender for the Guantanamo military commissions. Before that I did death penalty cases. About 10 years ago, I figured out that I have almost no control over events. Sometimes people who deserve punishment are released; sometimes people who do not deserve it are imprisoned or executed.
Instead of outcomes tomorrow, I concentrate on doing beautiful work today. That helps manage stress, and increases my professional satisfaction.

Frajer10 karma

How did you wind up on this case ?

connell-law15 karma

From 2003 on, I was a death penalty attorney in Virginia. In 2008, NGOs were looking for civilian attorneys to work in President Bush's military commissions, and I had a minor, behind-the-scenes role. In 2011, after President Obama restarted the military commissions, they were looking for full-time attorneys and remembered me from Round 1.

ChickenDelight1 karma

What do you plan on doing after the case is over?

connell-law6 karma

Probably I will go back to what I did before, handling death penalty cases in Virginia and elsewhere. But maybe some other opportunity will come along.

hlabarka1 karma

What rights do Guantanamo detainees have compared to a U.S. citizen arrested in the U.S.?

The U.S. has sent drones into foreign countries to kill people where presumably it would have been too expensive to capture them and give them their day in court.

If holding/preparing trial against your client becomes too expensive, from a legal standpoint, can the U.S. just kill him?

connell-law7 karma

The Supreme has said that, because the US has de facto sovereignty over Guantanamo, detainees there have all Constitutional rights which are not "impracticable and anomalous." That definitely includes the Suspension Clause and the Ex Post Facto Clause, and probably all other rights. So I certainly hope nothing like summary execution will happen there.

iknowhowmasefelt10 karma

Do you think that Zero Dark Thirty's portrayal of torture leading to Bin Laden was fair and accurate?

connell-law19 karma

Actually, I don't know. We have not received discovery on this point yet. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the CIA have differed sharply on what information emerged and the sequence of events. Until we see the underlying information and not just the spin, we can't know.

RunDNA9 karma

Do you think the men and women who carried out the torture should be prosecuted?

connell-law19 karma

Yes, although I think it may take a long time. Argentina recently prosecuted torture from the 1970s.

BigRonnieRon3 karma

Practically speaking, how would you go about that? Testifying is, in essence, a crime since the information is, for the most part, classified e.g. John Kiriakou.

connell-law7 karma

There are ways to prosecute crimes even when the underlying information is classified. The fact that they could prosecute Kiriakou is an example.

deepakbndeepu9 karma

Do innocent detainees get any amnesty for losing their life in prison for that long time?

connell-law18 karma

No. The US has never provided any compensation to any detainee, although some other countries have. The government has blocked all lawsuits for compensation in the US under the state secrets doctrine.

deepakbndeepu4 karma

Does it mean innocent detainees have zero values for their life's? Are any work comps in prison for financial help when they get released? Or just no value for their life? I just remembered Hitler quote 'who, after all remembers fate of Armenians?'

connell-law11 karma

The United States has taken no responsibility for detainees after their release. So you can draw your own conclusion.

connell-law11 karma

This is in reply to the deleted Armenians comment: Truth be told, a lot of people are working incredibly hard on all aspects of Guantanamo. But it is difficult to break into the national narrative. How many people follow military commissions news, for example? If anyone wants to, the best sources are @CarolRosenberg and @GitmoWatch on Twitter. Both live-blog the military commissions hearings, and track most of the news.

suaveitguy9 karma

What is your opinion of Alberto Gonzales? How about Donald Rumsfeld?

connell-law29 karma

Both of them are professionals, and should have known better than to abandon long-standing American principles.

RancidCabbage7 karma

What do you think the best way to rehabilitate ex-Guantanamo bay detainees is?

How do you think countries around the globe should go about preventing radicalisation?

How long do you think it will be before Guantanamo closes?

Thank you for doing this AMA, it's incredibly interesting!

connell-law16 karma

For rehabilitation, you need a multipronged approach, including trauma treatment, family reunification, medical treatment, language skills, and some initial financial support. I was lucky enough to visit the Kuwait rehabilitation facility, and though it was a good effort. Radicalization is such a huge question I barely feel qualified. One overlooked aspect however is the idea of engrenage, in which countries play into terrorists hands by adopting repressive/militaristic solutions which radicalize additional population. No idea on GTMO closure.

suaveitguy6 karma

How much does capital P Politics (e.g. parties, PR) enter into the court room level?

connell-law11 karma

It has substantial influence. Last year, to speed things up, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued an order for judges to move to Guantanamo, which provoked a backlash from the judges. A Senate committee elicited comments on some of the rulings in our case. We have to keep up with the larger political world.

suaveitguy6 karma

You are working at Guantanamo Bay, it was a fairly heavy day: what do you do for the night to relax? What is the personal life like while working there? Ever have people see you as the opposition? Does that make it hard to socialize?

connell-law13 karma

The traditional military/diplomatic choices are hunk, chunk, and drunk. There is not much to do, so you can work out, eat, or drink. They do have free outdoor movies (not for prisoners) at Guantanamo. I like to run to the movie, watch it, then run back.

connell-law10 karma

There is one bar at Guantanamo, and in my experience, people don't tend to discuss their jobs with strangers. My office, which consists mostly of military, but some civilians, socializes a lot together at Guantanamo.

orangejulius2 karma

How do civilians join your staff?

connell-law3 karma

We have three kinds of civilians. Military Commissions Defense Organization hires some attorneys and paralegals as GS employees. The Convening Authority appoints some experts as consultants/"personal services contractors." And the CA hires contractors through major DOD contractors like CSRA and Leidos.

suaveitguy6 karma

Can you relate to Kafka's The Trial?

connell-law9 karma


deepakbndeepu5 karma

Did home country of detainees made any effort in releasing innocents in diplomatic level?

connell-law8 karma

Yes, some countries have fought hard for their release of their detainees. UK is an example.

medauros5 karma

What happened to the other released detainees? Where were they sent?

connell-law10 karma

There are 91 men still held at Guantanamo; most have been released by either the Bush or Obama Administrations. Most were sent to their home countries, but some were sent to third countries, including Bermuda, Uruguay, and Bosnia.

connell-law8 karma

The Miami Herald has a map of third countries which have accepted detainees.

CJoshDoll4 karma

On a serious note, I guess the biggest question is WHY would you want to defend, what at least to the American public, appears to be mostly radicalized individuals with at least some desire to cause harm to the US? Do you feel that some of the detainees simply have done nothing wrong, so your goal is to fight for them, while pressing through the ones you know are guilty? Or is it just a basic ideological contempt for how these people are being prosecuted?

Do you believe that someone, for lack of a better term enemy combatant, deserves to be afforded anything resembling US legal rights?

If you could put together your dream scenario for how to handle those that are captured and placed at GitMo, what would that look like? Should we not capture anyone? Should they be held in US prisons with access to the US criminal justice system? How and when should we release those that we have gathered intel from, but are not worth prosecuting? How should we deal with punishing those found guilty? Should those that are clearly guilty (lets say overwhelming video evidence) before any type of trial be handled? Should they be afforded the full legal process? How should we punish those found guilty through a system that you would design, assuming they were afforded the legal rights you would want, and the trial types you would want?

Do you feel your client is likely guilty of some sort of crimes, but you object to the manner of prosecution, or do you feel that your client is 100% innocent?

connell-law10 karma

I appreciate your effort in those questions, and will try to do it some justice in a shortish answer.

I personally love America and the values of liberty, equality, and due process it espouses. It does offend me that we would seek the death penalty though a system specially designed to provide "due process light."

All countries have the right to hold enemy combatants, and to a lesser extent non-combatants, in armed conflicts. The rules for those situations are fairly clear in the Geneva Conventions, and I believe the United States should apply those rules.

As to why I personally do this job, I feel there is a difficult and important job to perform, and I am one of the relatively few people qualified to do it. So I feel a duty, not just to my client but also to my country, to do what I can.

Edited to remove accidental bold.

CJoshDoll2 karma

So would you not be doing this job if the death penalty was not involved?

connell-law5 karma

In a very literal sense, I would not be doing this job if the death penalty was not involved because my job only exists because the government is seeking the death penalty. If the government dropped the death penalty, I would probably be released from the case.

But I suspect that is not what you mean. Yes, the death penalty makes a big difference to me. But so does my client, and the rule of law generally.

orangejulius4 karma

Is torture effective?

connell-law11 karma

It is effective at hurting people. It is not effective at getting useful information. Neuroscientist Shane O'Mara has an excellent explanation why in Psychology Today.

deepakbndeepu4 karma

Can we find any effort by UN to supervise this kind off cases by ICC?

connell-law6 karma

The United States has not consented to ICC jurisdiction, so no. The Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe considered seeking observer status at the military commissions, but ultimately decided against it.

cazique3 karma

How knowledgeable are the judges you deal with? I personally have seen judges struggle with cases involving technology and then make some... odd... rulings based on their misunderstandings. I could see the problem being even greater when dealing with classified technologies and torture techniques where you do not have the benefit of a wide pool of neutral civilian experts.

connell-law4 karma

Our judge is very knowledgable on military law, much more so than I am. Beyond that, it is important to educate him like other judges on why folk understanding of torture, technology, or anything else is not correct.

Specifically on technology, I watched the en banc oral argument last week in United States v. Graham, the leading case on historical cell site location information. It was obvious that some of the judges had no idea how the technology actually worked.

BigRonnieRon3 karma

What GS level is defending terrorists - GS-13, GS-14, GS-15 or SES?

Do you have a clearance? If yes, are you worried your clearance will be revoked for doing an AMA?

connell-law5 karma

The DOD GS attorney positions at MCDO are GS-15.

Nothing in this AMA is in violation of my security clearance, as nothing in this AMA is based on classified information. In fact, there is specific regulatory authority for me to speak to the public/media on military commissions issues on behalf of myself and my client. Thanks for your concern, though.

suaveitguy3 karma

If you were to direct a journalist to a good, undiscovered discussion about Gitmo, what would it be?

connell-law11 karma

One item that has received no real attention is the classification of the memories of detainees. The USG maintains that the prisoners' own memories of where they were and who interrogated them is classified. How can the USG classify the thoughts of a person who has not signed an NDA? I would love to see a journalist ask relevant players to explain that one.

connell-law5 karma

As a starting place, this issue came up at the Committee Against Torture review of the United States in November 2014, but the US dodged the question. That says to me that some international torture experts are thinking about the problem.

shimmyshimmyy3 karma

Hi, what were you given to eat for a daily base? Were you able to cook your own meals? Any grocery stores?

connell-law5 karma

Guantanamo has a Navy Exchange, which is a combination of a grocery store and a department store. I am usually lucky enough to be in a room with a kitchenette, so I can cook. People who are not so lucky go to one of the galleys (Navy for cafeteria) or fast food/restaurant. They have McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Subway.

cazique3 karma

How long after capture do detainees have usable intelligence? Do we actually keep people only for incapacitation and retribution?

connell-law3 karma

It depends on what kind of intelligence. I can imagine that the shelf life of tactical intelligence (who is about to do what) is fairly short. These men were all arrested in 2002-2003. But there is the possibility of strategic intelligence ("what is your perspective on this?"), which can only come from rapport-building and trust.

suaveitguy3 karma

What did you think while and since watching Zero Dark Thirty?

connell-law11 karma

The first thing I thought was, holy crap, that is Ammar. I am actually glad they made the movie, which provoked an important discussion otherwise missing. We watched it in the courtroom as part of a motion to find out the information the CIA gave to the filmmakers; that was impossibly difficult for Ammar.

dlawoff1 karma

Have you talked to your client about the movie? Has he seen it?

connell-law1 karma

Yes, he has seen it.

robotsongs1 karma

We watched it in the courtroom as part of a motion

The whole thing? On what grounds? It seems like there's no basis to view the entire movie, an artistic work of conjecture, in support of evidence.

connell-law6 karma

Several releases under FOIA have revealed that the CIA and DOD gave information to the filmmakers. We filed a motion (http://www.mc.mil/Portals/0/pdfs/KSM2/KSM%20II%20(AE195(AAA))_Part1.pdf) to obtain discovery about what information the USG gave the filmmakers that they have not given the defense attorneys. We watched the clips portraying specific types of abuse of Ammar al Baluchi to demonstrate the filmmakers had access to information we do not. The military judge has not yet ruled on the motion.

Edit because link contains parenthesis and does not work properly.

ChickenDelight3 karma

Why exactly is the case taking so long, and is there anything you think could be done to fix that?

Are military commissions just fundamentally unfair to the defendants in your view, or is there anything you think could be done to fix that? For that matter, is there any reason to have them at all in your opinion?

connell-law7 karma

Main factor on time so far has been government intrusions into the defense camp in such a way that the judge has to respond. We have spent a lot of time, and cancelled hearings, dealing with FBI investigations of the defense counsel, listening devices, etc.

connell-law11 karma

I don't think there is much of a reason to have military commissions. The US has a perfectly good court-martial system which can try war crimes if federal courts are not available for some reason. The military commissions are a hybrid of federal courts and courts-martial specially designed to convict in this trial.

deepakbndeepu3 karma

How do judges get appointed for this trials?

connell-law6 karma

The service branches nominate judges for the military commission. The Secretary of Defense appoints a Convening Authority, who chooses the Chief Judge (and the "jurors," and decides whether to prosecute, and funds the defense). The Chief Judge selects judges from the nominations to handle individual cases.

ChickenDelight3 karma

Aside from what they're accused of, what are the defendants like as people? What do they think about the trial - do they participate, do they think there's a chance they could win and get released? What do they think about you and military members representing them, given that you all work for the US government?

connell-law7 karma

Because they are people, they all have different opinions and different personalities. Al Baluchi would not meet with me at all for two years, until I got an order from the military judge to meet him in Camp 7. I am still the only lawyer to ever meet a prisoner in Camp 7. After that time, he has become a full partner in his defense, which he sees as important even if the USG will not release him if acquitted.

connell-law8 karma

Al Baluchi, who I know best, speaks excellent English, understands American legal and pop culture, and is humorous. In the arraignment, when the judge asked if al Baluchi understood that the trial could go on without him if he escaped, he said that he would be sure to leave a note. But he also suffers a great deal from the effects of his torture, and his #1 goal is to get torture rehabilitation.

cazique3 karma

How would you compare your work to that of James Donovan (of Bridge of Spies fame) or John Adams, who represented British soldiers after the Boston Massacre?

connell-law6 karma

I draw a lot of inspiration from their experiences, but don't see myself as nearly as important as them. I am just one of a lot of military and civilian attorneys trying to keep a grip on the rule of law.

MattBaster3 karma

What, in your opinion, is the most effective way to get information from a detainee that won't result in such widespread controversy?

connell-law10 karma

The intel and law enforcement communities routinely maintain that old-fashioned rapport building is the best way to get information from prisoners. It works for hundreds of thousands of interrogations within the US, including of hardened criminals.

cazique3 karma

What are the risks associated with processing people in a civilian or military system? I could see secret evidence being a problem in the civilian context, as the military would need to protect its sources.

connell-law4 karma

Both civilian and military systems have protections for classified evidence: the Classified Information Procedure Act for federal court, Military Rule of Evidence 505 in courts-martial, and Military Commission Rule of Evidence 505 in the military commissions. It is a balancing between national security and the right to defend oneself. It is easier for my office than some others because we all have security clearances.

CJoshDoll2 karma

It appears that your ID is expiring soon, what, if any, steps have you taken to deal with this, and how has it affected this case?

connell-law2 karma

My contract runs from April to April, so I have to get a new ID every April.

Doomtodeath2 karma

What type of pizza do you like?

connell-law4 karma

Thick crust, with mushrooms and black olives.

suaveitguy2 karma

What sort of program is given to prisoners before they are released? How is best to make peace with them at that point? Is that a priority?

connell-law8 karma

That is a major issue. There is no deradicalization or rehabilitation program before prisoners are released. Some prisoners are released to countries where they know no one and don't speak the language. Recently, one prisoner refused to get on the plane. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have their own rehabilitation program.

suaveitguy2 karma

Considering the evidence- does encryption save lives, or put more people at risk?

connell-law8 karma

I am not qualified to address that on a global level, as I don't have access to the evidence. I can tell you that both my contract provider (DOD) and my team consider encryption very important. We travel all over the world, and need to protect our confidential information.

soxfan3172 karma

In your opinion should the trials be transferred to a civilian court in the United States? While highly unlikely that the detention facility at Guantanamo closes during the remainder of Obamas Presidency, do you think it will close under the next administration?

connell-law7 karma

There is currently no plan to try anyone from Guantanamo in a civilian trial. The President's current proposal is to transfer them to the US for trial in a military commission. As you say, this seems politically unlikely.
What will happen under the next Administration is anyone's guess. I have sometimes entertained a theory that only a Republican can closed Guantanamo, sort of like only Nixon could go to China. But we will see.

orangejulius2 karma

Do you think Guantanamo Bay will actually close its doors before Obama's term is over?

connell-law3 karma

I put the chances at about 1%. The right opposes his plan because they like GTMO as a symbol; the left opposes his plan because it continues indefinite detention in the US. It is hard to see where Congressional support to change the NDAA ban on transferring detainees to the US would come from.

rbevans2 karma

Are you allowed full access to evidence or is some of the information redacted? If redacted, how do you work around the redacted information to make a strong case?

connell-law5 karma

Our access to evidence is very limited. The government routinely produces redacted information, or worse, "substitutions" for evidence which strip it of most useful information. We fight about this a lot in court, and it remains to be seen if we will be able to build a strong case despite the limits.

suaveitguy2 karma

Any thoughts on Omar Khadr?

connell-law2 karma

Khadr's story is amazingly complex. His family, his childhood arrest, his military commission trial, his long string of attorneys (some from my office), and his transfer to Canada all make his story one of the most complicated GTMO stories. I am glad Michelle Shephard and others are working to tell it.

cazique2 karma

How did the change in administrations between Bush and Obama changed the process? Did the aftermath of Snowden's disclosures change anything for your work (I know it is not directly on point, but the reputation of the US intelligence agencies have taken a hit thanks to Snowden et al).

connell-law4 karma

President Obama championed the [Military Commissions Act of 2009](www.mc.mil/portals/0/mca20pub20law200920.pdf), which made some changes to the prior MCA of 2006. The new law required appointment of "learned" (that is, death penalty-qualified) counsel, which is why I have this job. It also expanded the prohibition on use of torture-derived evidence to some extent.

The Snowden disclosures did not change anything major for my work directly.

zephyr21992 karma

How did you wind up practicing law at Gueneonomo Bay?

connell-law4 karma

I was a death penalty attorney based in Virginia. In 2008, I had a minor involvement in the first iteration of the military commissions, all in the background. But when the law changed in 2009 to require death penalty attorneys for a death penalty case, they remembered and asked me to take the case. I refused at first, but was eventually swayed by the promise of spending full time on one case, which I had always wanted to do. I have worked full-time on the one Guantanamo case since 2011.

zephyr21992 karma

What advice would have for a high school student who wants to go into law (specifically International Law)?

connell-law4 karma

Right now, go check out your school's debate team. Among other things, my eight years of debate gave me "argument sense," a deep understanding of how arguments work and don't work.

Also right now, take French. French and English are the languages of international law.

Longer term, look for internships that involve international law. The international NGOs depend on interns for a lot of their work, and offer a lot of opportunities. To eventually get a job in the field, you will need to demonstrate a commitment to international law, and internships are a great way to do that.

zephyr21991 karma

Thanks for the reply, is there any specific NGO or agency that you recommend I look into for internships?

connell-law1 karma

If you are interested in international criminal law, The Hague, Netherlands, hosts all the major international criminal tribunals. I just tested "Hague internships" in Google, which returned a bunch of options.

If you are interested in a different aspect of international law, research which UN agency has jurisdiction over it, and check their web site.

Eveverything2 karma

Hello, I'm an attorney myself, but in a completely different field of law. I am far from an expert, but this is my theory about why the Guantanamo is the way it is, please let me know if you think it's realistic?

In a normal trial, all of the ways that law enforcement collects evidence and treats the suspect after arrest are extremely important to the outcome of the trial- if the prosecutor can't establish that the defendant was treated properly, or that the proper chain of custody for all evidence was respected, the defendant very well might walk. If the police are overly coercive or step over the line in some way, the defendant should be found not guilty. In the Guantanamo cases, it seems like all of that would be out the window. Many if not all of these people have been tortured, and they have all had their right to a speedy and fair trial severely impinged, coming to trial more than a decade after their arrest. I think that the CIA agents (or whoever) who arrested or interrogated the suspects still in Guantanamo have good reason to believe that the people in custody did something that gave real support to terrorism. Or they wrote a report over a decade ago with a note that says that Suspect X (for example your client) was captured in a scenario making him likely connected to Al Qaeda, or that he had a note in his pocket with an important phone number, or somebody else in Afghanistan named him as a key figure.

So we'd have a situation where Obama or whoever is in charge thinks 1) if the defendant is tried in a civilian court, they will be found not guilty based on the many ways these suspects and cases have been mishandled BUT 2) this guy probably did something and it would be a PR nightmare if he was on the news next year as a terror suspect in a new incident so we are going to do this screwy military system to try and reclaim our dignity somewhat.

I haven't heard this in the mainstream narrative about Guantanamo, does this sound right to you?

connell-law4 karma

Your hypothesis is pretty sound. I think that sort of thinking is driving the military commissions.

The problem, of course, is that at some point the cases emerge back to our side of the looking glass. So far, no military commissions conviction has survived appellate review. The case of al Bahlul will soon have its fourth decision from the D.C. Circuit, so we will see what happens there, and if the Supreme Court is willing to weigh in on these issues.

rbevans2 karma

Can you explain like I'm 5 the complexity of you defending Ammar al Baluchi against the government? I feel this would be an tremendous uphill battle.

connell-law8 karma

Imagine you had to debate your kindergarden teacher over whether you should be punished. The teacher sets the rules, decides what you can't say in your defense, judges the outcome, and comes up with the punishment. Yes, uphill battle.

suscepimus5 karma

That sounds indistinguishable from the current criminal justice system. Can we have an "explain like I'm an adult" what the difference is?

connell-law9 karma

An ordinary criminal justice system includes separation of powers between the judiciary and executive, whereas everyone in the military commissions works for the DOD. An ordinary criminal justice system has precedent, whereas this is largely made up as we go along. Watch for new legislative changes to address issues which are coming up in the military commissions.

pipsdontsqueak2 karma

Hi! I'm an attorney in the D.C. area. How would I go about getting into this kind of work?

connell-law5 karma

The Chief Defense Counsel maintains a pool of qualified civilian attornsy. I'll get the link and post it.

pipsdontsqueak2 karma

Thanks, I'm very interested in this line if work.

connell-law3 karma

I am having a hard time finding a link. Please email me at [email protected] and I'll put you in touch with the right people.

dlawoff2 karma

What kind of court is this trial in? Is it one of those military tribunals? If so, how is it different in practice from a traditional civilian court?

connell-law2 karma

This trial is in a military commission, which is a form of military tribunal. Some of the differences are logistical, in that a large group travels every 1-2 months to hold court in a temporary building on an abandoned airstrip. Some of the differences are legal, like the open question of what provisions of the constitution apply, the limited ability to compel witnesses, and relaxed hearsay rules.

ImNotVenom1 karma

Do you think Obama is going to free Puertorican poltical prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera? What do you think about Oscar's case in general?

Thanks for the AMA.

connell-law2 karma

Presidents traditionally pardon a number of people on their last day in office, and this President has set up a major clemency consideration program. I don't have any special insight, but Lopez Rivera seems like a good candidate for clemency.

amc220041 karma

Would you rather have to defend one horse-sized duck, or a hundred duck-sized horses?

connell-law10 karma

One horse-sized duck. I made that choice early in my career. But society needs duck-sized horse defenders (and prosecutors) too.

RancidCabbage7 karma

Quacktanamo Neigh.

connell-law5 karma

Each year my team produces a coffee cup with a design somehow relating to that years' events. Quacktanamo Neigh just made the running for this year's coffee cup.

judgesmoo1 karma

I (lawyer myself in another country) have deep respect for your work. I believe that - no matter the crime - everybody deserves a fair trial and is innocent until proven guilty.

I have one simple question for you: How are you able to not get mad fighting against such overwhelming odds and - more importantly - in legal circumstances that most countries in the world would describe as a human rights violation?

connell-law3 karma

Sometimes, of course, I do get mad. That said, I try not to because I have found that anger is not a good basis for action.

The first thing I do is to try not to judge everything as good or bad. Take government intrusions into the defense team. When we detect them is that bad because it disrupts our work, or good because it reveals what is really going on? If you haven't read the Zen story of the farmer's son, I highly recommend it to you.

The second thing I try to do as much as possible is to let go of outcome. I can't control whether the judge rules for me or against me. I can control whether I do beautiful work, today.

HerptonBurpton1 karma

I worked with some GITMO defense attorneys while I was in law school. I've got a lot of respect for the work y'all do.

(1) From an insider's perspective, what do you think is the likeliest scenario for Gitmo's higher-profile detainees? (Indefinite confinement at Gitmo, detainment in foreign/Afghan prisons, etc.)

(2) How do you preserve privilege in meetings with your client, knowing that the government is listening to your conversations? It seems virtually impossible to have privileged discussions in Gitmo

connell-law3 karma

(1) Most likely scenario for most former CIA detainees is indefinite detention under supermax conditions.

(2) Privilege is a constant struggle. The prosecution promises that it has removed the listening devices from the attorney-client rooms, and does not monitor attorney-client conversations. We have a secure mail system that I trust, but the prison sometimes seizes the privileged mail once it is in the cell. It is a tough situation.

twistytwisty1 karma

You've worked on only this case since 2011 - I am completely ignorant of what that would consist of. How is there enough work to keep a team of people working full-time for 5 years? Would you mind giving a taste of what a typical day/month looks like? I assume the work load waxes and wanes - especially if you get a data dump that must be combed through or you're in the final weeks of prepping a particular motion. How do you keep a fresh eye, after steeping in this case for so long?

connell-law3 karma

I wish the workload waxes and wanes, but it only waxes. Despite the long time period, there is a crushing amount of work to do. Some numbers from a recent filing:

83 days of hearing travel to Guantanamo in 2016

In first quarter of CY 2016, our team travelled 155 person-days for investigation to eight countries and four US locations. Separate from hearings and investigation, our team traveled 39 person-days to Guantanamo.

There are well over 3000 pleadings in the case, and new pleadings are filed an average of every two hours on business days.

The prosecution represents that it is working seven days a week to produce discovery, and I believe them. It has already produced hundreds of thousands of pages, and multiple terabytes of data, of discovery. I believe there are millions of pages remaining to be produced; we know the SSCI reviewed 6.3 million pages on the CIA rendition and interrogation program.

That said, I am big believer in a beginner's mind.

What_are_you_a_cop1 karma

Thank you for the AMA. What's the hardest part about representing such a highly known and despised person? What's it like having a client portrayed through such a known movie?

connell-law2 karma

The hardest part, full stop, is being away from my family with all the constant travel. I can't say that my client is highly known or despised, as most people have never heard of him. Like I did in the title, I usually try to introduce him through the connection to ZD30, which is well-known at least in the US. So I find the movie connection generally helpful to give people some sense of who he is.

BigRonnieRon1 karma

What are your thoughts regarding Padilla v. Yoo?

connell-law3 karma

Legally, it is an unsurprising result. American law is incredibly deferential to government officials acting in an official capacity. But I wish the Administration would be willing to use its Department of Justice to accomplish some justice.

ReallyBoredLawyer1 karma

What kind of experts do you use for something like this?

Have you received a lot of highly classified documents in discovery?

To what extent can you compel document production? How do you even know these files exist?!

connell-law2 karma

We work with a lot of experts, including investigators, linguists, and psychiatrists/psychologists. Some of them are obvious choices, some less so.

We have not received a lot of classified documents in discovery, so far. But I am hopeful the judge will compel the government to produce them soon.

As in unclassified contexts, you often don't know what documents exist. You rely on a combination of experience, good guesses, hints in other documents, orders from the judge, and good faith on the part of the prosecution.

ReallyBoredLawyer1 karma

I'm guessing you'd have an expert regarding the infamous Zimbardo experiment to lay groundwork his initial psychological mindset. Following may be an expert on the psychological effects of torture. Finally you can use someone like Elizabeth Loftus to further state the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, even without torture.

Do you know how much of this case will be on westlaw? Is it a sealed case?

Will you continue to work in this area or go to something less stressful after its all over?

connell-law2 karma

Your thoughts on experts are basically right.

Unfortunately, none of the case is on Westlaw so far. There have been thousands of unclassified pleadings, but they are only available through a public portal at www.mc.mil. The easiest way to know what is going on in the case is to follow @CarolRosenberg or @GitmoWatch, both of which closely track the military commissions.

I don't think about my professional future very much, as we still have a long way to go on this case.

lunkerfish1 karma

Given the recent events in Europe, do you think that it will change the attitudes towards the past and potentially future prisoners? Do you think that the current batch of presidential candidates will have a positive or negative effect on the efforts to right the wrongs?

connell-law3 karma

I don't think the recent attacks in Europe will have much effect on US policy, but they certainly seem to be changing attitudes in Europe, driving a wave of militarized law enforcement and anti-Muslim sentiment. I think what many people may not realize is that adverse government reaction is the main goal of terrorism, because terrorists believe harsh government reaction will radicalize supporters for their cause. The best book I have read on this topic is called [Y: The Sources of Islamic Revolutionary Conduct](www.higginsctc.org/terrorism/sources_islamic.pdf).

The worst thing about the Republican frontrunners' discussion of torture is the treatment of torture as a legitimate policy option. Once torture is a legitimate policy option, there is not much left on the other side of the line.

[Edited to correct book link]

BigRonnieRon1 karma

You linked a createspace book which I believe may be a bootleg. Incidentally the book is widely available for free.

connell-law1 karma

Thank you for pointing that out. I have corrected the link to point to a free PDF version of the book.

jcasurella1 karma

What is the pay and are your expenses paid?

connell-law2 karma

Congress sets the pay rate for capital defense attorneys in the federal and military commissions systems. Right now, it is $183/hour. It works just like the federal CJA system. Travel expenses are paid by the government; overhead and personnel expenses are not.