Ellis Boal for Congress MI-01
Democrat Nelson Jerry Cannon points proudly to his leadership in 2003-04 of the US Guantánamo Bay detention camp in requesting your vote. In a Roll Call interview of October 8, 2013, he was asked if his time at Guantánamo Bay could be construed as controversial. His answer:
Guantánamo Bay. People should be -- People need to understand that there's two missions there. There's an intelligence mission and there's a detention mission. I was responsible for the detention mission during the time that I was there. We conducted that mission, not just I but all the people that were under my command, we did that in a manner that the American people would be proud. And we had an opportunity a couple times a year for the International Committee of the Red Cross to come in and look at our detention operation and every box was checked to go. It was a great mission.
During and after President Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, Democrats attacked the camp at Guantánamo Bay as a "sad chapter in American history". Today they are reversing course, and putting someone forward who embodies it.
They had it right the first time.
Cannon's exact starting and ending dates there are unclear. His website says it was from the spring of 2003 to sometime in 2004. But one report says the disgraced Major General Geoffrey Miller ran the place until August 2003 when he left for Iraq. Another says Miller remained the "commander of the Guantánamo operation ... to March 2004," and his successor was Brigadier General Jay Hood. Another says Hood took over on March 24, 2004.
ICRC, NY times, academic reports
The International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] has charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The finding that the handling of prisoners detained and interrogated at Guantánamo amounted to torture came after a visit by a Red Cross inspection team that spent most of last June  in Guantánamo.
Contrary to Cannon, officials at the camp sought to deceive the ICRC. On January 1, 2005, the Times reported the military had an arrangement that a particular prisoner Mohamed al-Kahtani was not visited by the ICRC on a few of its regular visits, "in order to carry on the charade that he was not at Guantánamo." (All charges against Kahtani were later dropped because his interrogation amounted to torture.)
On October 17, 2004, the Times gave some specifics of longstanding harsh, coercive treatment used on Guantánamo detainees. The paper's sources,
military guards, intelligence agents and others, described in interviews with The New York Times a range of procedures that included treatment they said was highly abusive occurring over a long period of time, as well as rewards for prisoners who cooperated with interrogators.
Guantánamo Bay guards set conditions for the interrogators' work, according to a Defense Department official quoted in the article, which noted:
A month after the election the Miami Herald highlighted findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee's just-released torture report which noted black-site interrogations of detainees took place at Guantánamo Bay in 2003-04. This was during Cannon's tour, when all detainees were under his protection.
In practice, inmates in black sites have no rights other than those given by the captors. CIA officers are allowed to use what the agency calls "enhanced interrogation techniques." Former CIA Director Leon Panetta has called "enhanced interrogation" a euphemism for torture. In 2005 the CIA destroyed videotapes depicting prisoners being interrogated under torture at a black site in Thailand. Jose Rodriguez Jr., CIA operations chief, justified the destruction saying what the tapes showed was so horrific that they would be "devastating" to the agency.
Physical abuse inflicted by detainees on Guantánamo Bay guards was minimal. An academic researcher examining DOD records in 2002-05 reported:
The disciplinary reports reveal that the most serious injuries sustained by guards as a result of prisoner misconduct are a handful of cuts and scratches.
Most of the detainees had no reason to be there. In October 2004, Brigadier General Martin Lucenti, then-deputy commander of Guantánamo detention, said:
[o]f the 550 [detainees] that we have, I would say most of them, the majority of them, will either be released or transferred to their own countries . . . Most of these guys weren’t fighting. They were running.
Mustafa Ait Idir
Cannon has not described particular accomplishments of his tour at Guantánamo Bay. But a 2006 Report On Torture And Cruel, Inhuman, And Degrading Treatment Of Prisoners At Guantánamo Bay, Cuba of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) documented many illegal incidents which appear to have overlapped with his time. It concluded:
The report reveals patterns and systematic practices that implicate not the idiosyncratic predilections of sadistic soldiers and interrogators but policies approved at the highest level of the U.S. government.
Of great interest is one incident in the report involving a particular Bosnian prisoner, Mustafa Ait Idir, who later beat Cannon in the US Supreme Court.
The court has delivered three rulings against government policies at Guantánamo Bay. The first was actually a set of two rulings on the same day in separate cases, the first involving a US citizen being detained in Virginia and the second involving foreign nationals at Guantánamo Bay. Hamdi v Rumsfeld (2004) held that though the US seized citizen Hamdi in a combat zone in Afghanistan and declared him an "illegal enemy combatant," he had to have a meaningful opportunity to offer evidence that the declaration is untrue. Rasul v Bush (2004) held the courts could consider detention challenges of Kuwaitis and Australians captured abroad in connection with hostilities between the US and Taliban.
In the second, Hamdan v Rumsfeld (2006), the court ruled that an act of Congress to allow the US to try enemy combatants by military tribunals, rather than through the court system, violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Third Geneva Convention.
In Boumediene, Ait Idir was a petitioner (plaintiff). As an army colonel and the custodian immediately responsible for his detention, Cannon was a respondent (defendant). The DC court of appeals had accepted respondents' argument that an act of Congress had the effect of suspending their right to habeas corpus relief, and instead providing Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) in its place.
The Boumediene court rejected the CSRTs as an adequate substitute for habeas corpus. The CSRTs allowed hearsay evidence and refused the right to present exculpatory evidence. Additionally the court rejected government defenses that the US does not have sovereignty at Guantánamo Bay, and that the petitioners -- sometimes known as the "Algerian Six" since they were part of a group which emigrated from Algeria to Bosnia in the 1990s -- should have exhausted review procedures before filing their claims.
Five months later, in November 2008, Judge Richard Leon ordered Ait Idir's release, as well as the release of four of the other six. (The sixth was ordered to remain in custody, but he appealed and prevailed, and eventually was also released.)
The "Algerian Six" in court
In Bosnia, Ait Idir worked in computer repair and charities. With tacit US support, the Six had originally come as part of a Muslim group to fight the Serbs in 1992-95. After the war Ait Idir stayed, married, and had three sons. The six were arrested in 2001 for a plot to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo. That proved baseless but in January 2002 they were brought to Guantánamo Bay anyway. After extraordinarily persistent efforts of pro bono counsel they got the Supreme Court ruling, which allowed them to present evidence to Judge Leon.
Cannon and the other respondents filed a 53-page narrative and 650 pages of exhibits with the judge. The court held over 50 hours of discovery hearings. The Six filed 200 pages of narrative and 1650 pages of exhibits. Closed-door proceedings concerning classified evidence were on seven days in November 2008. Ait Idir and another petitioner testified to the court via video-teleconference from Guantánamo Bay. Finally there was a 4½-hour closed-door oral argument in court.
Respondents' case is summed up here. Relying solely on an unnamed source in a classified document, they were claiming the Six were part of a plan in late 2001 to travel to Afghanistan to take up arms against the US and allied forces. But Judge Leon ruled he could not assess credibility of an unnamed person. He added there was insufficient evidence to show a plan even existed, much less that any of the Six knew of and were committed to it.
Four years earlier in October 2004, Ait Idir had also testified at a CSRT hearing. In 2005 his testimony was cited as "vividly" illustrative of CSRT's "inherent lack of fairness" by Judge Joyce Green in a different case. (Ait Idir can communicate in rudimentary English.) She wrote:
A "known" Al Qaida operative of whom the tribunal president said she did not "know" his name? The contradiction is surreal. Judge Green commented:
The laughter reflected in the transcript is understandable, and this exchange might have been truly humorous had the consequences of the detainee's "enemy combatant" status not been so terribly serious and had the detainee's criticism of the process not been so piercingly accurate.
We know from Judge Leon that Ait Idir isn't a terrorist. Now we also know from Judge Green he is astute and perceptive. These two judges found him credible, even inspiring, showing grace and good humor under fire.
Judge Leon ordered Ait Idir's release "forthwith." He returned to Bosnia where he is today.
No pants for prayer
We come now to the specific reason why these public-record matters are important to Nelson Jerry Cannon's campaign. According to the Defense Department assessment of Ait Idir in 2008:
Detainee is assessed as a MEDIUM threat from a detention perspective. His overall behavior has been compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff. ... [I]ncidents for which he has been disciplined include ... failure to follow guard instructions/camp rules....
The matter of the broken left pinky was noted again in a FOIA complaint filed by one of Ait Idir's attorneys in Boston in 2005:
Succeeding paragraphs of the FOIA complaint relate continued guard abuse a few days later causing dislocation of knuckles on his right hand, after which half of his face became paralyzed and he had pain. He was diagnosed with Bell's palsy.
The quoted paragraphs of the FOIA complaint about the colonel's demand for and extraction of the pants and the second incident involving Ait Idir's knuckles and face are elaborated in greater detail in a three-page passage in the CCR Report on Torture. Too lengthy to be quoted in full here, the report recites the following in the text accompanying footnotes 178, 202-07, and 268, based on first-hand witness notes which are on file at the CCR. Quotes are from the report:
The CCR report documents other incidents of abuse of Ait Idir in the text accompanying footnotes 26, 126, 130, 147, 187, 193, and 194, but these are not know to have occurred during Cannon's tour.
IRF / SWAT / NMLETG
The IRF is variously referred to as the Immediate Response Force, Initial Reaction Force, Internal Reaction Force, or Extreme Reaction Force. IRF actions are videotaped. The IRF has been compared to SWAT ("Special Weapons And Tactics") teams.
The FOIA complaint says the incident when his pants were demanded occurred in "early 2004." The CCR report says "Feb. 2004." Both are near the end of Cannon's Guantánamo Bay tour.
Reviewing the FOIA complaint and the Torture report I wondered who might be this "colonel" who sicked the IRF on Ait Idir three times to force him to pray without pants.
Today Cannon is not a colonel. He is a general. Part of what he does now in Michigan is oversee
specialized SWAT Team training, urban assault tactics training, live-fire training opportunities and other interior situations unavailable anywhere else in this part of the country,for local law enforcement agencies around the country including Missouri.
Cannon does this through an organization Northern Michigan Law Enforcement Training Group (NMLETG) that he co-organized at Camp Grayling in 2001 with the approval of then-Governor John Engler, on the board of which he sits today. On August 16, I wrote NMLETG staffers Kelly Vandecar and Bruce Coxworth, noting the SWAT/urban assault curriculum and asking:
if NMLETG alumni or past or present staff are or have been involved in leadership of recent law enforcement activities around Ferguson. Stated otherwise, has there been any relation between NMLETG and official personnel or activities current in Ferguson today?
NMLETG staff has not answered.
The Center for Constitutional Rights coordinates the efforts and maintains a roster of US lawyers who have assisted with Guantánamo Bay litigation. I was led through the roster eventually to two lawyers of Ait Idir, Stephen Oleskey and Rob Kirsch.
I asked them if the "colonel" who demanded the pants might have been Nelson Jerry Cannon. Kirsch responded on August 20:
"The best source for the information you seek is Mr. Ait Idir.... Of course, he did not have access to a calendar at the time, nor does he have notes of the incident.... If you send a photo, I can ask Mr. Ait Idir if he recognizes the person in picture. Identifying information was stripped from uniforms when soldiers were with prisoners at GTMO."
Queried how Ait Idir could have known the rank of the colonel if he wore no identifying information, Kirsch later explained:
"I do not believe rank was considered identifying. We have dozens of unclassified interview note references to the rank of JTF [Joint Task Force] personnel."
On receipt Kirsch wrote Ait Idir "Do you recognize the man in the photos or video?" Ait Idir wrote him back an hour later.
Kirsch forwarded me Ait Idir's iPhone email the next day, explaining:
Fitness to serve
For years as sheriff of Kalkaska County Cannon housed prisoners. And starting in 2001 he helped train local law enforcement SWAT teams. It would not be a surprise to learn that he taught the very IRF tactics used to bring down Mustafa Ait Idir in 2004.
In the Roll Call interview last October -- the one where he said "not just I but all the people that were under my command, we did that in a manner that the American people would be proud." -- one of Cannon's additional arguments was this: "I don't have a voting record."
It's true. He doesn't have a voting record. But he does have a record. It's one of torture.
Deliberately inflicting severe physical pain and injury to a person under the torturer's control or custody is torture.
Torture and the conspiracy among Cannon and the IRF team to commit it, done "outside" the US by US "nationals," is a 20-year felony. Guantánamo Bay is outside the US and Cannon is a US national. Congress first put the prohibition on the books in 1994.
Ait Idir has now unmasked the conspiracy. Its purpose was not to elicit intelligence information from him. He had no information to offer. It was to humiliate him religiously. Even a prisoner has a right to refuse and resist this.
In an appendix, the 2006 CCR report concluded -- and I agree -- that the assault on Ait Idir constituted torture under the statute. As to the conspiracy, according to a 2012 report out of the American University Washington College of Law:
Conspiracy is an ongoing crime, coming to an end only when either the conspirators no longer take actions in furtherance of the conspiracy or the conspirators withdraw from the conspiracy. [footnote omitted, emphasis added]
Since I first published Ait Idir's identification of the colonel on this page on August 30, Cannon has said nothing publicly to rebut the facts. He did not appear at the October 1 candidate forum in Gaylord where the Republican Dan Benishek and I spoke and I noted the issue.
A Traverse City reporter did ask him generally about torture at Guantánamo Bay, and in general terms he denied anything of that nature happened: "[Cannon] said all detainees were treated with care and respect and Boal's accusations are 'absolutely wrong.'"
But this side-steps the issue. The specific accusations are not mine. They are by Ait Idir and two witnesses who were there, corroborated by medical records. The reporter did not ask Cannon specific questions about the pants incident, and he has provided no specific facts. Nor have officials at Guantánamo Bay disputed the specifics published by CCR in its 2006 report.
If Cannon wanted to withdraw from the conspiracy, the time to do it was in the Roll Call interview in October 2013 when reporter Abby Livingston asked if "his time at Guantánamo Bay could be construed as controversial." Instead the conspiracy continues today. He calls the mission "great," even as Ait Idir continues to suffer from it.
The Democratic Party supports Cannon. An unnamed blogger reported on September 2 that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved $940,000 of TV time for him. Even if Cannon goes to prison for torture, under the Constitution at article I section 2 he can still sit in the House and speak for the Party.
What happened to Ait Idir is just one example of prisoner abuse in CCR's Torture report. Cannon as the commander was responsible for all guard actions and IRF actions during his tour, under the military doctrine of command responsibility, which the US supreme court has upheld.
The CCR's Torture report, unlike the above New York Times articles, lists many specific examples of abuse. Except the dates of incidents are not specific (because prisoners did not have access to calendars). The incidents occurred over a period of years. They are too numerous to spell out in detail here. Many were before or after Cannon's tour, and many were during it. Here are some which were likely at least partially during his tour:
Cannon is proud of what he and the IRF did at Guantánamo Bay. But voters need to know several things:
If Cannon wants people to vote for and entrust him with public office, where he would hold power to affect people around the country and the world, he must now provide details. A person who ordered and supervised torture is not fit to sit in Congress.
He and I talked about this on the stage on October 21, as we shook hands when the Candidate Forum in Traverse City ended. He said "Your facts are wrong." I said well then he should give answers to my questions publicly. He said "No."
Since he refuses, a Congressional committee should invite Ait Idir and the two witnesses to testify, along with the IRF and medical records, so the truth can be heard by everyone.