Guantanamo Bay, Asharq Al-Awsat-U.S. Attorney David Nevin is considered one of the more well-known lawyers affiliated with the Guantanamo bay detention center, as he is in charge of defending who many consider to be the world’s most dangerous inmate; Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, coordinator of the September attacks, and the third man in al Qaeda, who is currently detained in the secret camp VII.
Nevin, a thirty year veteran in the field of law has obtained acquittals in a number of high-profile prosecutions which implicated issues of civil rights and government overreaching, including the 1993 Ruby Ridge case, and the 2004 terrorism prosecution of a Saudi Arabian graduate student, Sami Omar Al-Hussayen.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Nevin gives insight into the legal issues involved in defending the world’s most notorious Guantanamo inmate, and what the future holds following the announcement of the controversial detention center’s closure in the near future.
The following is the full text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Can you tell our Arab readers a little bit about yourself, for example what previous cases have you defended?
(David Nevin) I am a criminal defense lawyer from Boise, Idaho. I am working on Mr. Mohammed’s case with my law partner Scott McKay and the detailed military defense counsel Lt. Col. Michael Acuff. Your readers may know that Idaho is a mountainous state in the northwestern US, and Boise is its capitol. I am married and have two sons, one who attends college and another who recently graduated from college and is working in the criminal defense field in San Francisco. I’ve been defending criminal cases throughout the United States for about 30 years, and have worked on many cases involving issues of government overreaching and civil liberties including national security cases. A few years ago, Mr. McKay and I represented Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a Saudi national who was not guilty of terrorism charges following a long federal trial. Mr. Al-Hussayen was living in the United States at the time pursuing a doctoral program and has since returned to Saudi Arabia where he lives with his wife and children. You can find a more detailed description of my professional experience at this URL: http://www.nbmlaw.com/attorneys/david_Nevin.html.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What do you think about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, how many times have you seen him so far in private?
(David Nevin) I have met with Mr. Mohammed perhaps 25 times over the past 8 months, for several hours each time. Unfortunately, I can say very little about the things he has said to me – this is both because of very strict security rules, and also because of the attorney-client privilege. As you’ll see, this makes me unable to answer a number of the questions you pose below.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you communicate with him directly or via an interpreter?
(David Nevin) Both. As you can see from watching Mr. Mohammed in Court, he speaks conversational English, but an interpreter is helpful.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was representing himself in court did he welcome your legal advice?
(David Nevin) For the reasons I set out above, this is not something I can comment on.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) In court, we saw an intelligent and charismatic side of him, and we saw that he holds influence over his co-defendants, do you agree?
(David Nevin) For the reasons I set out above, this is also not something I can comment on.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You informed me that there was a mistake in translation of your client, I am willing to correct this, if you would just state what has been said and I will transcribe it directly.
(David Nevin) The Washington Post reporter, Peter Finn, reported the following:
“I am the mastermind of 9/11, not Osama bin Laden,” Mohammed said during argument over whether the case needed to be re-arraigned because of a technical error by Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official charged with deciding who goes to trial at Guantanamo. The judge ruled that the case could go forward despite the error.”
It is my understanding that Mr. Mohammed actually said, “I never stated that I was the ‘mastermind’ of the 9-11 operation. The 9-11 operation was created in the mind of Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may God protect him.”
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What kind of books and newspapers does Khalid Sheikh Mohammed read in Guantanamo?
(David Nevin) I am also not allowed to discuss the conditions of Mr. Mohammed’s confinement.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) We know you are famous, but do you attribute this to defending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?
(David Nevin) I don’t know whether I’m famous or not — that‘s a question I leave to others.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are you happy with the forthcoming close of Guantanamo Bay and what do you think will happen after 120 days?
(David Nevin) I am indeed relieved that President Barack Obama is following through on his promise to close Guantanamo, as well prisons used by the CIA. America should never have mistreated prisoners, whether at Guantanamo or elsewhere. We should never have held prisoners incommunicado for years without providing them with legal remedies to challenge their detention. We also should never have tried to execute prisoners in the very flawed legal system known as the Military Commissions. Guantanamo in particular — and our treatment of prisoners captured in the so called “war on terror” in general – have severely damaged the reputation of the United States. We are trying to rebuild that reputation and the first step is to close Guantanamo and promise that it will never happen again. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what will happen after 120 days – I suspect President Obama and his advisors are still determining this.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) We have noticed in court that your client has put on weight, what do you attribute this to?
(David Nevin) I don’t believe your observation is correct.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) As a result of your client’s case, have you sought to learn the Arabic language or learn more about Arabic culture?
(David Nevin) It would be a great honor to learn Arabic, and one of my sons studied Arabic in college at my suggestion. Unfortunately, as a fulltime practicing lawyer, learning Arabic, which is very different from my native language, English, is probably out of the question for me. My interest in Arabic stems from many things, not just this case. I’m also very interested in Islam and in Middle Eastern culture, history, and politics, and I read about these subjects frequently. I have a number of good friends in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and I hope to visit there soon.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What have you learnt about Arabic culture, or Islam, from KSM?
(David Nevin) As I note above, this is not something I can comment on.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) For yourself and lawyers in general, due to the restrictions placed on Guantanamo Bay, do you find this case to be more tiring than others?
(David Nevin) A very interesting question. It takes Mr. McKay and I 2 days of travel each way to visit Mr. Mohammed in Guantanamo. We have spent a lot of time sitting in airports and on airplanes over the last 8 months. Guantanamo also is a difficult place to do legal work, both because of the very high security and restrictions as well as the relatively primitive living and working conditions. Internet access is spotty, as is telephone service. Office supplies are not readily available, and there is very little support staff. We take our meals in galleys far from where we live and work, and we live in very small and Spartan trailers located on an old airport runway — when we aren’t relegated to tents. Several of the members of our legal team have not been provided security clearances and are unable to meet Mr. Mohammed or come to Guantanamo. Guantanamo is located on the southeastern tip of Cuba and is a beautiful place in many respects – it is truly where the desert meets the sea. However, it is a very frustrating and inefficient place to work. The very stringent security restrictions also make it very difficult to assist Mr. Mohammed with his case, since information he provides us cannot be readily used to contact witnesses or investigate the government’s charges. I said in Court the other day that altogether these restrictions make it almost impossible for us to practice law, and I meant it.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What do you think the outcome of this case will be?
(David Nevin) I can only express my hope for the future which is that someday the world will be a better place, and that the handling and treatment of this case might contribute to that. However, that has not been the case thus far with the Guantanamo Military Commissions.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Finally, does your client read Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper?
(David Nevin) We do occasionally provide him articles from AAA, and I read it myself frequently (in English). By the way, I was interested in your article day before yesterday, “Pentagon Concerned over Ex-Guantanamo Detainees Rejoining Al-Qaeda.” I thought I would point out that generally accepted recidivism rates for United States prisons run about 60%. By that measure the Saudi re-integration process is very effective.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Thank you very much indeed, sir.
(David Nevin) You’re most welcome.