Litigator Harry Schneider Discusses Hamden Case

Natalie Pudalov

The Lampert Institute for Civic and Global Affairs brought Harry Schneider, a current lawyer at the Seattle firm Perkins Coie and one of Salim Hamdan’s past litigators, to campus on March 27.

“I knew that Mr. Schneider was giving a talk at Cornell through one of our trustees, Mark Nozette,” Director of the Lampert Institute and Professor of Philosophy David McCabe said. “When I heard about his proximity, I became very interested in seeing if he could also visit Colgate while in the Northeast.”

As Schneider explained, Hamdan is a Yemeni citizen with about a fourth grade education. From 1996 to 2001, Hamdan worked as a transporter of agricultural workers associated with Al-Qaeda, which meant that he was basically a personal driver for Osama Bin Laden. Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan on November 24, 2001 and was detained in Guantanamo Bay beginning during late April 2002.

Hamdan was interrogated for several years at  Guantanamo Bay. Although Schneider stated that Hamdan was not waterboarded, Hamdan faced harsh interrogation methods such as sleep deprivation and

sexual humiliation.

In developing a case against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush in 2006, Lieutenant Commodore Charles Swift and Schneider cited the unconstitutionality of the President’s military order in 2001, the lack of uniformity in relation to military code and the violation of the Geneva Conventions

during Hamdan’s detainment.

Although Judge Robertson rendered a decision on the case on November 8, 2004, the D.C. circuit reversed Robertson’s decision, and the argument was tried before the United States Supreme Court.  In October of 2006, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld to reinstate prosecutions before Military Commission at Guantanamo.

Hamdan was then recharged under the Military Commission Act at Guantanamo with conspiracy to commit terror and material support for terrorism. The United States government charged Hamdan of conspiring with Bin Laden as it relates to the United States Embassy bombings in Kenya, Tanzania, as well as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

During the 2008 trial, the jury found Hamdan innocent of conspiring with Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, although guilty of material support. After serving four months in a prison facility, Hamdan was released. He returned to Yemen in April in November of 2008, where he served his last month of sentence. In 2012, the D.C. Circuit vacated Hamdan’s conviction for material support of terrorism.

“Harry Schneider was challenging the United States for violating the Geneva Conventions and not necessarily judging whether or not Hamdan was guilty. This makes one question the legitimacy of the constitution and the court system, and whether or not the core constitutional values of the United States apply to everyone. I think cases like this ensure that the US Court system functions according to the rules set in place. Schneider discovered that Hamdan’s conviction was based on something that was not even considered a crime at the time it occurred,” junior and lecture attendee Katie Garvey said.

Both McCabe and Garvey continued pondering about the questions and issues that Schneider raised.

“I was struck by his answer to one of the questions, in which he raised strong doubts about whether the U.S.’s current policy in Guantanamo is consistent with the Constitution. One always wants to keep asking questions after a talk of this importance,” McCabe said.

McCabe emphasized the relevance of this lecture while Garvey mentioned her sense of surprise after learning about some of the techniques used to interrogate detainees in the Guantanamo Bay.

“Though the Lampert Institute is focusing on the theme of health and health- care this year, we are also

always interested in any speakers who can offer high-level analysis of important issues in the world that raise challenging ethical

questions,” McCabe said.

“How the government is dealing with Guantanamo detainees is a very relevant topic today.  I am always surprised to learn about the techniques Guantanamo employs to get confessions out of detainees,” Garvey said.

Contact Natalie Pudalov at [email protected].