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Former Gitmo chief prosecutor to Obama: 'Man up'

May 14th, 2013
05:29 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Hearing Colonel Morris Davis speak, it’s easy to forget that he used to be the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay.

“We used to be the land of the free and the home of the brave; we’ve been the constrained and the cowardly,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

President Obama promised to close the Guantanamo detention facility when he took office in 2009; four years later, it’s still open.

A majority of the detainees, over 100, have been on hunger strike for more than three months to protest their detention; the military has resorted to force feeding them.

Eighty six of the detainees, Davis said, have never been charged with a crime. Many of those who were convicted of crimes were sent back to their home countries, and many are now free.

“It’s a bizarre, perverted system of justice,” he said, “where being convicted of a war crime is your ticket home, and if you’re never charged, much less convicted, you spend the rest of your life sitting at Guantanamo.”

A scant six years ago, as chief prosecutor at Guantanamo under President Bush, Colonel Davis sounded like a true believer.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, he called Guantanamo “clean, safe, and humane,” and said it was “worth keeping.”

On Tuesday, he told Amanpour that while Guantanamo is a model prison physically, it is wrong in every other way: financially, policy-wise, legally, and as a recruiting tool for extremists.

“It’s hard to see the upside to Guantanamo other than right-wing talking points to try to make the president look like he’s weak on terrorism,” he said.

Reporting from Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday, CNN’s Chris Lawrence told Amanpour that a military commander he spoke with denied that inmates were being force fed at all.

“It’s a standard military tactic,” Davis said of the obfuscation around the term “force-feeding.”

“When I was the chief prosecutor,” he said, “there were some suicide attempts, and we couldn’t say ‘suicide attempts’ – it was called ‘self-injurious behavior.’”

Just as Davis says his military commanders skirted the truth with politically correct language, so too has the political process itself eclipsed what was once a simple and moral issue.

“It was a non-partisan issue for while,” he said. “John McCain said he wanted to close it. Yet, it’s still open because it became a political football. And people are paying for it with their lives.”

Indeed, Davis said, it “certainly looks” as though one of the detainees will have to lose his life before something happens – “but it’s totally unnecessary.”

Congress removed funding for the president to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo, scuttling Obama’s plans to move detainees to the United States.

“We have never taken a detainee into the U.S.,” Davis said. “We have begged and bribed other countries to do it. Bermuda took some of the detainees. We’re supposed to be the home of the brave. We could at least be as brave as Bermuda.”

According to Davis, despite congress’s actions, Obama and the secretary of defense still retain the power to move the men to other countries by having those countries foot the bill.

“What we’re asking the president to do is to keep his word,” Davis said. “To use a Sarah Palin term, he’s got to ‘man up.’”


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Guantanamo • Latest Episode
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Barry Lewis

    He had me right up to the point where he quoted Palin.

    May 14, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      So, what you're saying is that when he quoted someone you don't like, he lost ALL credibility for you? I'm not sure he's the one with the problem.

      May 16, 2013 at 7:36 am | Reply
  2. petertellis

    I am sure there are reasons and perhaps these are not for public ears but from a distance it looks a bit like a Russian Goo-log !– The war is over I heard ; Time to remove this relic from the past and as the man says do the right and Human thing !

    May 14, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Reply
    • GrannyRN

      So, do you want these detainees in YOUR neighborhood?

      May 15, 2013 at 8:27 am | Reply
      • RainMaker

        I would rather have these detainees in my backyard instead of a govt that is purely driven by animalistic instinct and flexible principles instead of fixed principles. A President who takes his oath on the bible and contradicts it by okaying gay marriage. clear sign of an oppressive government. but the end for this government is around the corner. stay tuned.

        May 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
  3. Jeff

    So typical, no longer receiving personal benefit from it....criticize it. In the 6 years he was there he couldn't come to this same position and quit? Right.

    May 15, 2013 at 3:25 am | Reply
    • Christopher

      Jeff, he *did* quit.

      May 16, 2013 at 1:41 am | Reply
  4. Mike White

    Gitmo has brought great shame upon the US military, the US govt, and the American people. Colonel Morris Davis will always be remembered as one of the goosestepping morons that helped make it happen.

    May 15, 2013 at 3:33 am | Reply
    • Steve

      Mike, Guntanamo still brings shame on America, the same as the kidnappings (sorry 'renditions'), the secret transfer of prisoners to 'friendly' regimes to be tortured, the thousands of prisoners in solitary, the torture of Manning anjd and and.

      So what the h*ll happened to America's moral superiority since 9/11. It went right down the toilet, and it seems it can't be recovered.

      May 16, 2013 at 4:02 am | Reply
  5. Horsefly

    sometimes one has to open their eyes to see the "real" truth about what America really stands for. . finally the Colonel did & I'm quite sure many GOP'ers realize it now too, but don't have the gonads to admit it b/c of the "baggers" hate Obama, probably more than they hate terrorist. . .such a sad but comical hyprocritcal situation in which the whole world is beginning to think America has lost it's values and stands for nothing but partisan bickering. . .sickening not to close it

    May 15, 2013 at 4:07 am | Reply
  6. andrew johnson

    I was with him until he mentioned Palin and he shot his credibility to hell

    May 15, 2013 at 4:51 am | Reply
    • Jacob

      Shows the problem with close minded liberals like you. Whats wrong if he quoted palin? (btw, i don't believe she is fit to lead the country). Shoving people off because of certain affiliation is causing this country to be divided which both the conservatives and liberals are guilty as red herring!!

      May 15, 2013 at 9:19 am | Reply
  7. Ngoc Tran

    I believe that Gitmo chief prosecutor Col. Morris Davis has pointed out an important point that reminds us of the very purpose of the interrogation process as to gather intelligence, information for other operations and also to determine whether or not someone is guilty, not an excuse to detain people for an extended period of time even indefinitely. It is true that these detainees, just like everyone else want fairness and justice. It does seem that the President Obama should really consider releasing the innocents, letting them go home, back to their home countries and reunite with their families to demonstrate the very core principles of America, justice, the rule of laws being applied to all citizens, not just the Americans.

    May 15, 2013 at 5:52 am | Reply
  8. Melanne

    Even outside of the US and affiliate countries, we sight by those words of Col. Morris Davis and deeply hope that this human nightmare finally ends. That money could be better used to help – still suffering – Katrina Victims INSIDE the US.

    May 15, 2013 at 6:19 am | Reply
  9. Rob Maz

    We should have just killed them all on the battle field instead, much more humane right? bleeding heart morons... If having them there stopped one single American from dying, so be it. Totally worth it. Most of them their own countries don't want them back, to turn them loose would mean they would only get revenge somewhere down the line. Take that chance with your own family, not mine.

    May 15, 2013 at 6:57 am | Reply
  10. zuglo1

    Guantanamo is America's Gulag of the 21st Century. Stalin would be quite envious.

    May 15, 2013 at 7:42 am | Reply
    • Rob Maz

      Stalin would have let them starve, he would not be envious in the least, he knew how to run a prison.

      May 15, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Reply
      • Steve

        So Rob, Stalin is your hero for the way he slaughtered millions of people. So you are a hard-line communist. People making comments like yours – and you're proud of it – shames America and all it once stood for!

        May 16, 2013 at 4:09 am |
  11. William House

    President Obama isn't the problem here. President Obama ran on closing Gitmo, and after elected spent political capital trying to close Gitmo.

    Blame the Republican Party and a few blue dog Democrats for opposing the closing of Gitmo.

    Fight in the Primaries for All Civil Rights, for better Democrats and Republians.

    The Major Party Primary system is one of the most important progressive reforms in the past century.

    We do not have proportional representation or a parliamentary system.

    Those who neglect the Primaries, Neglect to make a Difference in our system.

    May 15, 2013 at 10:57 am | Reply
  12. diablo

    Capturing innocent people and holding them without a trial for a decade, not many Americans must be thinking that this is such a big issue. But a time will come when those responsible for this will pay a price. You read in newspapers how after 80 years Nazi guards are captured. Gitmo will have disastrous consequences in the near future. You never know, 30-50 years from now, gito guards may be hunted just like nazi guards are hunted now. It may sound very improbable now but many things during its peak appear improbable. When gaddafi was at his peak do you think he would have believed that one day he will be captured from a sewer line and killed.

    May 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  13. H. B.

    What he did NOT say – perhaps because of ignorance of these things, but it was impossible for him NOT to know them – was of towering importance.

    Though not charged with crimes, as some of them are, charging them would require preparing for a trial. Preparation for a trial requires EVIDENCE.

    Got that so far? It means you can't put someone on trial when you have no usable evidence.

    There was probably a good deal of evidence against most of them at the time they were put in Gitmo. So use it, then, and charge them with their crimes and try them. Simple enough. Right?

    One little fly in that ointment. The Bush regime tortured many, perhaps all of them. THAT evidence exists, too.

    Okay, so you want to try a dude. Charge him with the evidence we had against him when he was taken, then try him on it. Ah, but no. There is also the evidence that torture was involved.

    Evidence has to be presented to the court, but that's not enough. A judge isn't required to accept anything that a party offers up as evidence. That would make a sham of our courts. It has to be ADMITTED by the judge AS evidence in the trial. Merely presenting evidence isn't good enough, because not all such offerings are valid or applicable. The judge must find it acceptable AS evidence in the case before him. Every single piece of evidence requires this. An item is "offered for identification" and marked as an exhibit, if markable. It is then the offeror's job to convince the judge that the item IS applicable and relevant. A judge cannot legally admit evidence that was obtained through torture, or in conjunction with torture. Torture taints the evidence, rendering it totally inadmissible. It's out the window.

    So you try him. You present the evidence against him. His defense attorney squawks that none of that evidence is admissible any more. It is tainted by the use of torture, and is NOT ADMISSIBLE in court against him. The judge would have to agree and deny admitting the evidence. The trial ends, with no conviction, because there was no evidence admitted into the record against him. He walks.

    He might have been tried and convicted in the beginning, but now he can't be tried without an inevitable acquittal as the result.

    Yet Obama knows these people, charged with crimes or not, are hardened terrorists. The ones with less threatening "rap sheets" were let go, and most returned to terrorism. The ones remaining are the worst of the lot. Letting them go, whether without a trial or after one, is unthinkable. But all the "ammunition" he had to use as evidence against them is unusable at trial.

    The article says that Obama should "man up"? He is doing precisely that. Trying them is pointless. It's equivalent to just letting them go. He's either going to let these people loose to wreak terror on the world again, or he's going to keep them at Gitmo, at huge cost to his popularity at home.

    How would the public react if he just set them all free? Wanna know the howling they'd be making? And for good reason, since hardened terrorists are again on the prowl, busily planning to kill us.

    Okay, so how would the public react if he tried them all? At first, they'd like it. But when one acquittal after another set them all free to prowl, as stated above, the howling would happen there, too.

    The U.S. has already sent as many detainees as he possibly can to other countries. The ones remaining are the ones he can't get rid of that way. So what's left for him?

    Obama has only ONE other choice; to keep them where they are. ALL the nasty howling consequences for it will land squarely on HIM, and him alone. But at least the terrorists wouldn't be free to prowl. And the howlers would be safer. Which is what counts most to him.

    Obama has taken upon himself the full burden of heavy castigation, by this Davis and many others. But at least the terrorists are NOT loose, and can't threaten the American people. THAT, to him, is more important than being well-liked.

    That's more than "manning up." It's noble and selfless of him. He's doing what people think is the "wrong thing," but is doing it for the RIGHT reasons. And he's paying for it. While protecting US in the only way available to him.

    A leader who is willing to absorb such vilification for the safety of the people he's responsible for protecting is truly LEADING. It's just not leadership as most people define it to themselves – a kind of seat-of-the-pants thing. He knows he has no decent choices, but he chose to LEAD us by protecting US at the cost of his own political standing. It doesn't get more honorable than that. Courage is what we tend to define in terms of the obvious. The subtle kinds of courage are recognized by few, and few respect it, even if it is shown to them. Obama is being a courageous and honorable leader.

    It's not surprising that most people don't realize this and recognize his courage, because so few Americans have THAT kind of courage themselves, and few have as much genuine caring for the welfare of the public. Since most people in this world don't have "working heads," they can't learn of this aspect of the situation unless they're told point blank. They seem to lack the capacity to figure it out for themselves. But even then, personal agendas come into play.

    But history will notice.

    And – ahem – just WHAT was Mr. Davis, as the chief prosecutor, DOING to earn his pay? Was he getting convictions? That was his JOB, you know. I don't have the info in front of me, but I'd bet he didn't try even ONE detainee. Shouldn't he have "manned up" himself? How did he, as chief prosecutor, explain the total absence of prosecutions? Why did he fail, on the show, to mention the torture-tainted, and therefore INADMISSIBLE, evidence that would never be usable against these terrorists in a court of law? He had to know of it. But he's silent on that, while vilifying Obama. Makes sense, if you're a Republican, I guess. But not to anyone else.

    A man who couldn't man up, himself, accusing our president and demanding that HE man up. Sounds all too familiar, doesn't it?

    May 15, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  14. Johannesd

    "Obama and the secretary of defense still retain the power to move the men to other countries by having those countries foot the bill." – Is it just me, or does anybody else think this is an 'odd' statement ? Since when does any US administration wield legislative powers over any other country ?

    May 16, 2013 at 11:23 am | Reply
  15. lkdeckardramos

    A man in Ohio holds three women hostage for ten years and we can all agree that he is a monster, What does that say about a government that holds more than 100 people without charge for more than ten years?

    May 17, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Reply

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