Ammar al Baluchi’s lawyer Alka Pradhan tells us about what Ammar is like as a person, how he has suffered, his health, and the challenges and hopes for his case.
Can you give us a background about yourself and how you ended up defending Ammar Baluchi?
I am a U.S.-qualified attorney with expertise in human rights and humanitarian law, and I have been horrified by the atrocities at Guantanamo Bay since my college days.
I first represented about a dozen of the men at Guantanamo who were being cleared for release – first trying to help them get cleared, and then negotiating their releases either to their home countries or to third countries.
Along with other committed attorneys, I represented Shaker Aamer, Younous Chekkouri, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, Emad Hassan, and several others.
In 2015, I received an offer to work on Ammar’s case. Ammar is facing the death penalty at an illegal military court in Guantanamo, and my job is to highlight in the courtroom and for the public all of the continuing torture and legal violations and he suffers.
Can you tell us a bit about Ammar, in particular what strikes you most about his personality?
Ammar has a very intelligent and generous personality and roots his actions in his faith. Even though he struggles physically and mentally from his torture, he works with us closely on his legal defence and helps to shape our work.
He cares very much about other people, whether his family, his legal team, or other detainees, and tries to help us in any way he can.
Ammar was tortured in black sites across the globe. Please give some examples of instances to show the consequences of this on his day to day life.
Ammar was tortured in black sites across the globe. It was horrific, and the CIA actually helped showed parts of it in the movie Zero Dark Thirty, where “Ammar” is water doused, strung up with chains, and beaten.
In reality, Ammar suffered much more than that – he was also sexually tortured, shackled in painful positions, and sleep deprived for years.
Not only that, but the US refuses any real medical care or torture rehabilitation to deal with the effects of his state-sponsored torture, which under the law is actually a continuing crime of torture.
Can you describe his efforts to access medical care and what the result of this has been?
Ammar is only 41 years old, but he has a traumatic brain injury that affects his cognitive abilities. He is unable to concentrate for long periods of time, and has trouble reading lengthy items.
He is very sensitive to light, since he was sleep deprived using 24/7 fluorescent lights, and is prone to vertigo. He has great pain and numbness in his arms and legs from the shackling, and he continues to be shackled at Guantanamo.
He also cannot sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time because of the sleep deprivation, which is enormously destructive to his mental and physical health. The US refuses to do anything to help him with these conditions.
Ammar knew that he had suffered a head injury at the black sites, but it took many years of litigating and advocacy to even get an MRI done for him in 2017.
Apart from that, the medical staff at Guantanamo are largely indifferent – they will not conduct a sleep study or offer continuous psychological care to help with the effects of his torture.
In fact, often when he tries to tell them what happened to him, they say that they don’t want to discuss the causes of his medical problems, because (the torture) is classified!
What makes the military commissions process in Ammar’s case particularly unique compared to other legal cases you’ve worked on?
The military commissions at Guantanamo are illegal because they are a separate court system built only for non-US citizens: Muslim men on an island where U.S. laws and rights don’t apply.
Military commissions are only meant to be used for combatants in a war, but Ammar is a civilian, and trying civilians in military commissions is strictly forbidden under normal circumstances.
The rules and location of the commission mean that the U.S. can try to use torture-acquired evidence against Ammar. They can also spy on defense counsel and violate attorney-client privilege, and they can do all of this while telling the public – who can’t access Guantanamo – lies about how they treat Guantanamo detainees.
In such a challenging case, what are you hoping to achieve for your client?
We have been fortunate that the United Nations has taken notice of Ammar’s case, and last year the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a major opinion saying that after analyzing Ammar’s case and his detention, they concluded that the United States could not give him a fair trial, and he should be released immediately with provision for his medical case from the United States. In light of these international legal experts calling for his release, we are hoping for a humanitarian transfer for Ammar to a third country, so that he can finally obtain the medical care that he desperately needs.
Until now, what are the hurdles he has faced in defending himself against the accusations made against him?
The biggest hurdle is that the United States government wants to hide information about Ammar’s torture from the defense. In fact, we now know through litigation that the information the US has been hiding shows that most of their evidence is tainted by torture.
Our job now is to make sure that they cannot use that illegal evidence in court – it is neither factually reliable nor moral.
What are his immediate needs and concerns?
Ammar’s most immediate concern is his health, whose deterioration has accelerated recently. He is looking for help to get the medical care he needs, and he will not get that care at Guantanamo.
Has he mentioned what he would like to do if he is released? Please share these hopes with us.
Ammar has two simple hopes if he is released. First, to get the medical he needs to survive the effects of his devastating torture. And second, to reunite with his family members, whom he thinks of constantly.
Please share any final words regarding Ammar with our concerned readers.
On behalf of Ammar, we are very grateful for your support. Please continue to call for #JusticeforAmmar, ask for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds, and follow @BaluchiGitmo and @Gitmowatch on Twitter for more information about his case.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)