Transcript: Cmdr. Walter Ruiz’s remarks on the arraignment of alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi

Transcript of remarks by Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel, on the arraignment of Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi at Guantanamo Bay on charges related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

(*NOTE: Press conference was held on Sunday, May 6, 2012)

Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi, speaking to reporters at Guantanamo Bay on May 6, 2012. SOURCE: Department of Defense / Sgt. 1st Class Robert Stephenson

Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi: 

“Good morning. I am Commander Walter Ruiz and I represent Mustafa al Hawsawi.

“I’ll start by answering a question that was asked a little bit earlier. I can’t recall who asked it, but I think the question was along the lines of what is the defense’s goal, what is the defense’s strategy. Who asked that?

[Off-camera response]

“Okay. What I can tell you is this: Each of us have taken an oath, and that oath is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. We take every single word of that oath to be almost sacred.

“What is the defense’s goal, what is the defense’s strategy? It’s to assert every single right. It is to hold our own government’s feet to the fire, to ask them to uphold every single aspect of our Constitution, to ask them to do and practice what we say in words. What we have in aspirations, what we have in desires, what we have as a collective will – to see it in the process, to see it in the practice. Not just on paper but in practice.

“I can tell you that we cannot accept assemblyline justice. We simply cannot. We cannot be just process-oriented, from point A to point B. We must be quality-oriented. It’s not just about process. It’s not just about getting from point A to point B. It’s about how we do it and why we do it.

“This is hard. This is not an easy task. But nothing worth having – nothing worth having – is ever easy. And this is going to be hard on everyone involved – the participants, the lawyers, the family members. Nothing worth having is ever easy…That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re doing this. But it’s not empty words.

“You’ve heard a lot of rhetoric. Many of you have been here for a very long time. Some of you have said to me, ‘There’s nothing new that I have heard.’ And you know, at the end of the day that’s true. Words are empty. Actions speak louder than words. And what I would urge all of you to do is not to confuse the spokesperson with the process. Do not do it. It’s not enough to have us up here in fine-looking uniforms, reading carefully prepared speeches to tell you that this is a fair process. It’s just simply not enough.

“Look, this is why advertisers go out and get athletes to sell perfume or underpants because the feeling is that the consumers will confuse the product with the spokesperson. We as a nation cannot allow that to happen. We must not allow that to happen – not with my words, not with my uniform, not with the General.

“And I will humbly submit to you that the General is accomplished and tremendously experienced. He’s got an incredible pedigree, a chest full of ribbons, and he’s got all the credibility in the world and is fully deserved. But not a single word that comes out of his mouth, not a single speech that is prepared, can legitimize this process. Absolutely not – any more than any words I have to say.

“One of you asked, ‘How did you feel about the proceedings yesterday? How do you think they went?’ I think they went terrible. The reason I tell you that is because we had some measure of hope, and that measure of hope was that this court, that this judge, with the issues that we put before him – legal, factual issues based on Congressionally-mandated rules – would be heard and they were not because it was all about process. It was not about quality. ‘Process guy.’ Well, we’re the ‘quality guys.’ All of us are ‘quality guys’ – that’s what we’re after.

“This process transcends the individual actors. It transcends me. It transcends the General. It transcends all of you.

“Let’s just not say that this process is fair. Let’s not take every podium was can find and say this process is fair. Let’s show that it is fair.

“When we put a motion before the court that questions the court’s authority based on a rule passed by our Congress, based on factual actions, let’s hear that. The Supreme Court of the United States says Judge Pohl had the discretion to hear that motion – absolutely did. And you’ve heard time after time him say that ‘I’m a law guy. I follow the law, the Constitution of the United States.’ The Supreme Court of the United States – I was able to finally put the citation for the case on the record – says you have the ability to do that. You don’t have to go from point A to B to C to D when there’s a real question of authority of the court. That question comes from the process.

“Now for most of you, you think the curtain went up yesterday. This has been an ongoing process. For the past year, we’ve been waging a battle beyond the cameras, beyond the lights, beyond the quotes. We have been waging a battle for the soul of this case. For the soul of this process. All you saw yesterday was when the curtain went up. All you saw yesterday was when the participants were raised up into the coliseum for the pleasure of the masses.

“What we have been trying to tell all of you and what we’ve been trying to speak is about the quality of our process. It’s about meaningful opportunities to engage in this process. Things such as translation services, the ability to speak to a person whose first language is not English. In federal court, you would never even be engaged in this type of conversation. I tell you, I’ve been there. I’ve practiced there. So have all these men and women. We’re not just talking about federal court on paper – we’ve been there – lived it and breathed it.

“Legal access to legal materials. Well, it’s easy to dismiss that and say that’s just about not getting mail. But it’s not. Again, it’s about the life-blood of an attorney-client relationship grounded in Constitutional protection of the 6th Amendment. If that is to mean anything, we have to give it meaning in practice and not just in rhetoric. That’s what it must be.

“It’s also about having appropriate security clearances so that the experts that are granted, that are given, that are funded, can carry out their most basic and essential functions. If I gave you a gun and say, ‘Now you can defend your home’, but I didn’t give you any bullets, it is the same thing as having nothing. That is essentially what has happened in this case and continues to happen, and why those of us who are sworn to uphold the law – the letter of the law, the living, breathing law, our Constitutional aspirations – get up in court and make the arguments that we make because we believe that through the process, hopefully, we can have actual transparency and not just rhetoric. That is what the defense is trying to achieve.”


“You use the metaphor that yesterday the curtain went up on this. I know that that’s asking you to look ahead into the future but can you even begin to guess when the curtain may finally fall on this? When the guilt or innocence will be established? When all the appeals will be heard and played out? I mean, is it conceivable you’ll still be in the military when that happens?”

Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi: 

“You know what? You asked that. We actually had that conversation yesterday. One of my colleagues and I said, ‘I didn’t believe you when I said I’d retire from here.’ And then I said, ‘I may never have another legal job.’

“No, I can’t. I can’t begin to tell you that. But what I would like people to understand is it’s easy to point their fingers at the lawyers and say, ‘Well, the lawyers are holding the process up, and the lawyers are continuing to make the process that keeps dragging on.’

“But what is important to understand is that the reason the process has dragged on for 10 years now – before any of us were involved, before any of us even had an inclination that we’ll be in this position – it is because we tried to cut corners. We tried to cut corners constitutionally. We tried to cut corners procedurally. And we’re still continuing to cut corners. And as long as our process continues to try to cut corners, the advocates that are charged and empowered to defend those rights are going to continue to affirm those rights.

“So I cannot. As long as this process continues the way it has, as long as it continues the way it has for the past year, we will continue to hold the government’s feet – our own government’s feet – to the fire.”


“Can you clear up the issue of translation? You had said that your client had been without a translator for more than a year, and I think Gen. Martins later said in court that he’d been offered various translators but it didn’t work out.”

Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi:  

“Absolutely. The important aspect is to have a qualified translator. Every one of the accused in this case has had a dedicated translator assigned to that team for as long as they’ve been here. Mr. Hawsawi – we did have a translator up until the March of last year. When Mr. Hawsawi’s translator decided to move on to further employment, we sought to have a number of people come in as candidate. We were sent approximately 7 or 8 translators. We selected 2 translators that we thought would help us in the case and carry out our function. It’s critically important to have your translator that is dedicated to the case, particularly in capital cases where you have co-defendants, you need to have privilege and confidentiality. They’re not interchangeable parts. We can’t continue to switch one translator to the next. So when we asked, we asked very specifically just for the resourcing that every other team had. We want a dedicated translator. We want him to have the privilege and confidentiality that everybody else did and be able to carry out the function that we do in capital defense cases. We selected 2 of these people; one in May, one in June. Sent the names to the appropriate process. In one case, one of the applications sent to the Convening Authority’s office, which you know is the authorizing official, for over a month before any action was taken. We continued to follow up on this issue. We will litigate this issue in the future. We believe that the facts are as we’ve stated in our motion. And that is not accurate. To the extent that we have turned anyone away, there was one instance when we were offered a translator who cannot type in Arabic. Well, one of the most essential and basic functions that we use our translators for is to translate our letters to the client in Arabic, and the most efficient and useful way in doing that is to type. This person cannot carry out the function. So did we actually turn him away? Absolutely. Did we do it because it was inadequate resourcing? Absolutely.”


“If I could just remind you, if you could answer Jess Bravin’s question…?”

DOD personnel: (earlier during the press conference)

“Question from a Wall Street Journal reporter sent via email: ‘At voir dire, Judge Pohl was asked why he assigned himself to the case, the implication being that his decision to do so might be problematic. What is the defense getting at here? Are you suggesting that he’s a glory hound? Or has some agenda to be the judge who sentences the 9/11 people to death? If that’s not your point, then what exactly are you driving at with that question?'”

Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi:  

“I believe that question was about why we were asking the judge about assigning himself and his impartiality?

“Well, let me first tell you the basis for asking that question. The basis for that question is grounded in our rules, and the rule is 902 of Rules for Military Commission.

“I actually thought somebody may ask this question so I wanted to read you some of the text of what the ground rules are for that particular rule.

“Rule 902 says that as advocates we must question the judge on anything that may affect the impartiality or the impartiality might reasonably be questioned. That includes personal bias or prejudice. Anything that gives potentially the appearance of taint or partiality from free or substantial doubt.

“So do we think he’s a glory hound? I cannot answer that. But what I can tell you is that under the rules that we operate, we have the ability and the responsibility to ask why this judge, who is the head of the trial judiciary which has 8 other qualified judges. And if you heard the question and response, these are judges that are nominated by each of the top lawyers in each of our 4 services and then they go to the Convening Authority. What was really troubling about that exchange was that the chief judge did not even know what their qualifications were before assigning himself to the case. Now, he did draw the distinction and say that they were active duty service JAGs. But that begs the question, why did the 4 active duty JAGs – top JAGs – then submit those names if they did not think they were appropriate? So that is a serious and legitimate question for us to ask is if the chief judge –

“Col. [J.P.] Colwell here is sitting in the back here is the chief defense counsel. He has the duty and responsibility before he assigns any of us to a case, to absolutely know what our qualifications are for that case so that he can make a reasoned determination in assigning one of us to a particular case. When a judge does not do that, then perhaps we question his thoroughness. We must also question the motives. And when you have a case that’s ongoing, such as Nashiri’s, then we have to question whether one judge ruling on similar issues is better than perhaps a separate judge who will rule on additional issues independently.

“So do we think he’s a glory hound? I think that’s for all of you to decide. We have asked the questions that were appropriate to ask. We based it on fact. The fact is when he was a chief military judge in Germany, he assigned himself to some of the highest profile cases in the area of operation. And I think that speaks for itself. Whatever interpretation you all would put on it, maybe different from ours. But what I can tell you is take the information that we articulated in court, we’re going to look at it and we’re going to decide if we’re going to mount the legal challenge to Judge Pohl.”


“How much is the treatment of your client by the guard force at Guantanamo – Camp 7 here at Guantanamo Bay – an issue for you?”

Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi:  

“It’s enormous. It’s [an] enormous issue. It’s an issue that we continue to work behind-the-scenes, behind a veil of secrecy as we’ve spoken and as we’ve said. We’re crippled by our inability to answer that question with any specifics.

“We’ve actually reached out to the Red Cross a number of times to see if the Red Cross could lend us some assistance in some of the issues that we deal as advocates. The Red Cross, as you know, tends to take a very middle-of-the-road approach of neutrality so it’s very difficult. The Red Cross are the only ones who have access to some of the places that we cannot go to and things we cannot speak about.

“But it is an enormous issue and it’s one that colors every one of our aspect of our ability to represent and to take that representation into actual rights and responsibilities in the courtroom.”


“Is there anything that came out of yesterday’s [incomprehensible audio] that you can take to federal court?”

Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi: 

“Can you elaborate? I’m not sure I understand.”


“Is there anything that you would take, for example, to challenge in the Circuit or the U.S. District Court?”

Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi:  

“Not at this point. We first need to get the judge to the point where he’s willing to address the legal issue and make a ruling on that significant issue. Depending on what the ruling is, then we can assess that as to whether we want to go to federal court. But as you know, we have a pending federal lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Hawsawi with the United States District Court of Appeals.”


“But his refusal to hear the motion prior to the arraignment is not something that you can challenge despite your real heartfelt efforts yesterday?”

Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi:  

“Well, I think we could there’s certainly maybe a vehicle to do that but I don’t think we’re going to do it at this stage. The next hearing is relatively close in time so we’re going to hope that the judge will hear the motion at that point and I believe that that will be the next step in his process.”


“Based on what we saw yesterday – and I’m not asking about your client conversations. But based strictly on what we saw yesterday, is there a fair guess that there will be a trial in this case?”

Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, detailed military defense counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi:  

“Your guess is as good as mine at this point. The only thing I can ever say is that I expect the unexpected.

“Okay, thanks.”


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