Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Conscientious (Patriotic) Objector

Ask anyone close to Lt. Col. Couch and they will tell you how perfect a fit the Marines are for him. Lt. Col. Couch is a devout Anglican who holds religion central to many of his beliefs. “[On my moral compass], my magnetic north points to Christ.” A firm pro-life advocate, he believes that “millions have been murdered by the hands of abortion.” He carries over his respect for human life to his military dealings – while soldiers are engineered to kill, they must still follow a certain code of ethics. 

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, known at Guantanamo (GITMO) as Detainee # 760, had allegedly steered Ramzi bin al-Shibh and three of the 9/11 terrorist hijackers, Mohammed Atta, Ziad Jarrah, and Marwan al-Shehi, to Osama bin Laden. Bin al-Shibh was one of the mastermind planners behind the attack.

In August of 2003, Couch accepted a lead prosecuting role and was assigned a post in the Office of Military Commissions in Arlington, Virginia. There he was given files on several Guantanamo detainees, one of which was Detainee # 760.

Tired of analyzing case summaries through a bureaucratized web of politics, Couch made his first visit to Guantanamo in October of 2003. His own case on Slahi pointed to some fishy behavior. After a few difficult months, Detainee #760 had repeatedly refused to give in to interrogation tactics. Then mysteriously, he started spilling.

“After a while, I just couldn’t keep up with him because things were coming out every day. He was giving like a ‘Who’s Who’ of al Qaeda in Germany and all of Europe.” Couch was confused. “I’ve got in the back of mind what I had seen on that first trip. And I’m thinking, okay, why is he being this prolific? What’s going on? You know, is it physical coercion?”

A colleague hinted to Couch that interrogation methods used on Slahi had been elevated. He had been moved on to the “varsity program,” the nickname given to the Special Interrogation Plan authorized by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the so-called stubborn detainees. As Couch dug deeper, he corroborated his initial suspicions. This is what he found.

When Slahi was being relocated to Guantanamo, he was thankful, “this is America not Jordan, and they are not going to beat you,” he expressed at his detention hearing.

Around May of 2003, just about the time when Detainee # 760 was spilling a great deal of information, Slahi was exposed to what Couch believes to be torture. Not-so-coincidentally the recording equipment began to malfunction when Slahi reports to have been beaten, exposed to extreme temperatures, and abused sexually.
“I was very hurting,” states Slahi’s diary, “for my hands were locked to the floor and I could not stand. Mary was touching me with her sexual parts all over and talking dirty. I am not willing to talk in details about that ugly happen.”

For the next few months, he was physically and psychologically threatened. On July 17, 2003, a masked interrogator mentioned to Slahi that he had had a dream about detainees digging some graves. In the dream, he recalled “a plain, pine casket with [Mr. Slahi’s] identification number painted in orange [being] lowered into the ground.”[i] The same interrogator three days later falsely informed Slahi “that his family was ‘incarcerated.’ ”

Slahi was often threatened for his life. Next, Slahi was taken to a physician, a “doctor who was not a regular doctor [but] part of the team,” he distinctively recalls. “He was cursing me and telling me very bad things. He gave me a lot of medication to make me sleep.” He tolerated for a few weeks but could take it no longer – he broke: “…because they said to me, either I am going to talk or they will continue to do this.”

Couch stopped digging. “For me, that was just, enough is enough. I had seen enough, I had heard enough, I had read enough. I said: ‘That’s it.’ ”

A debate ensued May of 2004 between Colonel Couch and his then-superior chief-prosecutor Army Colonel Bob Swann. Couch had made it clear that he was morally against the techniques and methods being used at Guantanamo and therefore was refusing to partake in the prosecution of any detainees at GITMO.

When Couch asked Swann to cite legal precedent excusing the 1994 treaty’s mandate over methods of torture, he was immediately asked to hand over Slahi’s files.

Although Couch was taken off Slahi’s case, he continued his prosecution of other high-profile detainees.

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