Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Friday, April 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Savage Continued

"It was all very intimidating, and this was a situation that would last for years," Savage said.

The attorneys were pursuing a two-course strategy: The habeas corpus case, which is what the Supreme Court had agreed to hear, and a conditions case, to try to relieve some of al-Marri's suffering.

By the time Savage met his client, al-Marri was already exhibiting signs of extreme disorientation at times, and was often given to seeing and hearing things that were not there. "That was in the darkest days of the case, late 2004 and into the better part of 2005," Savage said.

"Gradually, over time, our meetings with him became a little more private, and his conditions did improve marginally, although I'd be hard-pressed to say it was our doing," he said. "Instead, I think credit for a gradual evolution to more humane conditions has to go to the staff of the brig itself, because from what I could see, there was a real conflict between the brig and the DIA - Rumsfeld's police - in terms of how the prisoner was treated.

"It was the personnel of the brig that was really raising hell about it and who took it upon themselves to improve his conditions," Savage said.

Asked specifically how those conditions improved, Savage said al-Marri received a television in the past year, although he was not allowed to watch any local or national news programs. "Ironically, that meant he received most of his 'news' from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report, which routinely criticized the Bush administration."

Al-Marri also began to receive heavily redacted copies of the local newspaper, the Post and Courier - basically getting to see the advertisements, the classified, the sports pages and the obituaries. On one visit with his client, al-Marri expressed a surprising amount of concern about the obituaries.

"Here in South Carolina, it's customary for African-Americans to include photographs of the deceased, no matter how small the obituary, where whites rarely do that," Savage said. "Now, al-Marri is somewhat aware of the history of civil rights and race in the South, and one day, in all seriousness, he asked me why only black people died in Charleston, South Carolina."

Savage said the treatment al-Marri was subjected to - intended to get him to confess and cooperate - was tantamount to torture, even if it did rise to the level of water boarding or Abu Ghraib.

Even with some slackening of the conditions under which he was held, al-Marri has not been allowed to see his family in more than six years, and it was years before he was allowed to receive correspondence or photographs from them.

Savage said al-Marri was able to speak briefly with family member by hone last summer, after his father died, and that he's had two very short phone calls with family members since then.

Based on initial indications from the Obama administration, those restrictions will continue, Savage said.

"The changes in the conditions of Al-Marri's confinement and the privileges I mentioned earlier, all really changed before President Obama took office," Savage said. "In essence, the most horrible of the conditions where addressed because the Bush administration didn't fold firm on them.

"I'd say the biggest change since the inauguration is that al-Marri didn't have to wear ear-muffs and blacked-out goggles when he was brought in to see us," Savage said. "Other than that, much has stayed the same. For instance, we've already been told by the Obama administration that requests for visits from the family will still be denied.

"It's almost like, in a sense, we're having to start over," he added.

And that's perhaps his most startling assertion: That while its great to be operating within the U.S. legal system again, many, many aspects of the situation are still askew.

"The one good thing that has come out of his being ordered out of military custody is that the government has consented to give us discovery,' Savage said. "UP until now, the only thing we've ever heard are the allegations. We have not seen any of the evidence, and now the government has agreed to provide us with the evidence and an accounting of the sources from which it came.

"On the other hand, whatever sentence al-Marri gets - and at this point, I don't know if he is what they say he is or not; I'm not making a judgment on the case itself - the government doesn't want to recognize pre-trail confinement," he continued. "They want to act as if the past six years didn't happen.

"As far as I'm concerned, given the conditions he was exposed to, my client should be given extraordinary credit for the time he's already been held, but they're going to fight us on this," the attorney added.

Savage said the hearing in Charleston took him and federal prosecutors somewhat by surprise, because they'd already agreed that the defense would receive the government's evidence, and that the defense would not contest the government's desire to keep him in custody.

"As a result, I had to go before the court and say, 'Regardless of what the government's evidence is regarding six years ago, this is who this man is today. The man I know is not a jihadist in any way,'" Savage said. "His actions and words in our discussions do not reflect the acts that he is accused of."

Perfunctory. And just as perfunctorily, Judge Robert Carr ruled al-Marri was a danger to the community and was a flight risk, remanding him back into custody.

And just what kind of man is al-Marri today?

"He's accused of all kinds of dastardly deeds, but the client I've come to know is kind and compassionate, and not the least bit bitter about his incarceration or the conditions he's been held under," Savage said. "If it'd had been me, I'd be pretty damned bitter.

"But he's just not that way," he continued. "He believes that Allah had placed him in the brig to give him quiet time and allow him to reflect on his life."

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.