Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

A Failure of Moral Imagination: Guantanamo, Torture, the Constitution, and Mormons-An Interview with Brent N. Rushforth

Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

A Failure of Moral Imagination: Guantanamo, Torture, the Constitution, and Mormons-An Interview with Brent N. Rushforth

Article excerpt

Note: Gregory A. Prince, a biographer and chair of Dialogue's Board of Directors, conducted this interview in Potomac,Maryland, in June 2009. Brent N. Rushforth is a partner at a law firm in Washington, D.C., and practices in antitrust and white-collar defense litigation. For the past four -and-a-half years he has represented, pro bono, prisoners at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.

Prince: You have been involved in Guantanamo for some time, and recently one of your cases was in the headlines. Give us the background of the ongoing legal battles there, and then tell us of your involvement in them.

Rushforth: The process that is now unfolding in Guantanamo grew out of our panicked response to 9/11. A friend of mine, a lawyer in Washington, very shortly after 9/11-within a year or so-had gone to Guantanamo to represent a prisoner there. He had received death threats, one of which he thought came from within his own firm. I don't tell that for reasons of over-dramatization, but simply to ref lect the state we were in as a country. It was a state of panic. Shortly after 9/11, I sat on the lawn at Farragut Square and talked to one of my law partners who said, "I think we'removing to Oregon, because there we will be out of the maelstromthat may happen." I think that ref lects that we were really in a state of panic when we invaded Afghanistan.

What happened is that as the Americans attacked Afghanistan, mostly bombing and Special Forces-this wasn't just infantry; this was bombing from B52's and Special Forces seeking to find Osama bin Laden-at the same time, the United States instituted a bounty-hunting program, to have the Pakistanis and others seek out and capture Arab men who were anywhere in the area. Of course, the Pakistanis are not Arabs, and the Afghanis are not Arabs; but the Saudis and the Yemenis who were in the area were sought out, captured, and sold to the Americans for bounties, in the belief that they were up to no good and in the hope that they would provide information as to how we could find Osama bin Laden.

Prince: Comment on the amount of the bounty, and howmuch of the average annual income in that area that it represented.

Rushforth: The annual average income was about $250. Certain parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan are very poor. The bounties mostly started at around $5,000. They went up from there. But you can do the arithmetic, and it's about twenty years' worth of income to these folks. I think it qualifies as a fortune in that part of the world. These were the bounties being paid for virtually any Arab man who happened to be in the area. Many who got caught up in this net had nothing to do with being adverse to the United States. Even those who may have gone looking for trouble- young boys, eighteen or nineteen years old-never found trouble. In fact, some of them went to Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Well, prior to 9/11, jihad had nothing to do with the United States. It had to do with tribal warfare in Afghanistan; and before that it had to do with driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan, which we not only applauded but also financed and provided the weaponry for.

So when we call these guys jihadists, first you have to be careful as to which jihad you are talking about. And secondly, many of these young men went to Afghanistan before the United States ever got involved; and when the United States got involved, and our bombs started to fall and our Special Forces started to be on the ground in Afghanistan, these guys took off. They wanted nothing to do with being adverse to the United States. Many of them were captured within weeks after the United States came in with their B52's and their Special Forces, and they were captured on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan on their way home! They wanted out!

Let me talk about how I got involved. My friend Tom called me and told me about his representation, and said, "Come on in. We need help." So I volunteered, and about four and a half years ago I was asked to represent, initially, four of the so-called detainees. …

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