Terrorism Trials & Investigations

2/12 Session #6: Torres, and More Welsh

By Wells Bennett
Tuesday, February 12, 2013, 5:35 PM

Lt. Col. Ramon Torres now testifies by VTC from Orlando, Florida, where he works in the human resources command.  But his testimony is not strictly directed to monitoring matters; instead, explains bin Attash lawyer Cheryl Bormann, Torres’ answers will relate more to AE32 and AE18 (the defense’s and the government’s motions, respectively, regarding privileged written communications) and AE008 (the defense’s motion to dismiss for defective referral).

Torres served at GTMO for about one year, from 2011 to 2012.  He was assigned to the Staff Judge Advocate’s office, where he worked on high-value detainee matters, and in coordination with CAPT Welsh (who then held the rank of CDR).  Among other things, Torres took mail to and from high value detainees.  Bormann is particularly interested in mail procedures, which the witness describes: Torres would receive mail sealed, and then take it to Camp Seven, the high-value detainees' home.  If the mail’s recipient wasn’t busy, then Torres would give it to the detainee (who might or might not accept it).  Then Torres would unseal the mail, perform a cursory check for contraband, and hand it to the accused.  The inspection would involve removing the papers from the envelope, and flipping through the papers briskly, as one would shuffle a deck of cards.  The idea was to look for paper clips and the like.  But, Torres testifies, he never looked at the contents of mail, or read the writing on the pages.  Did Welsh ever give Torres instructions about mail rules?  The latter received instructions mostly from another fellow, an Air Force JAG; there also was a standard operating procedure (“SOP”) in place, which Torres followed.  Much as before, the witness is emphatic that the SOP did not call for the reading of detainee mail.  Okay, so much for counsel mail to the detainee; what about detainee mail to counsel?  The procedure was roughly the same, though in reverse, answers Torres.

Bormann moves to Echo II, the meeting facility.  The witness had a role there, and helped to perform document screenings for attorney-client visits.  The SOP governed this work, Torres responds, along with another document---the name of which he cannot recall.  Same question as before from the lawyer: did the SOP or other document call for reading of detainee-lawyer communications?  No, again. 

On to Camp Seven, and the 2011 inspection of detainees’ legal mail bins.  Torres knows about that but didn’t participate in the seizure of any mail materials; he also didn’t read the documents seized.  But he knew about the episode.  And Torres recalled some kind of contraband, which, when discovered in September 2011, triggered Admiral Woods so-called “baseline review.”  Of course he did see the detainees’ bins, at the time of that review---and uniformed people nearby, their identifies unknown.  Torres saw Welsh there, too.  When asked, Torres tells Bormann that detainees complained about the bin incident.  He also probably saw defense counsel’s cease and desist letters, which were sent to the SJA, and talked to Welsh about them to some extent.  By then the SOPs had changed, Torres explains.  Now, under the new rules, envelopes would be opened immediately, flipped through, stamped page-by-page, and then delivered to the detainee; because of the contraband incident, JTF staff would no longer wait to open envelopes in the detainee’s presence.  Torres says that, just like before, his check was cursory, aimed at security contraband only, and sometimes conducted in the presence of defense personnel like Ms. Bormann.  Bormann reminds the witness of a client visit, where Schwartz, for attorney-client reasons, refused to allow Torres to perform his screen.  Torres remembers it.  He also remembers acknowledging that, indeed, it would be wrong for JTF to read over attorney-client documents.  For that reason, the witness then elected only to stamp the pages’ back sides---not the front, where text presumably was.  But, Bormann says, staff seized the documents we brought to bin Attash, notwithstanding your stamping, right?  Torres doesn’t recall.   But he does recall what came next: he was asked to leave his position at the SJA’s office.  Bormann is done.

The prosecution has no questions for Torres.

But David Nevin does.  Did Torres know about the legal bin seizure in advance? If so, then how far in advance?  A week or so, Torres answers.  He was concerned that the operation might make his job harder, as a lawyer.  Did the review strike him as wrong?  The witness thought he had to do his job, and said he did not look at communications per se.  But Torres nevertheless acknowledges the ethical issues in play.  And then-CDR Welsh knew about Torres’ feelings, Torres says.  He adds: there probably was an SJA lawyer present for every bin seizure.  Nevin asks a few questions about an evident mix-up, in which one detainee’s mail was delivered accidentally to another detainee; Torres has no knowledge of this.

Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas rises on behalf of al-Baluchi; the witness remembers the attorney.  When asked, Torres says that interactions between Torres and al-Baluchi were minimal. But Torres recalls that al-Baluchi spoke perfect English, and was respectful and professional.  Dealing with him was easy---though the baseline review seemed, in the witness’s opinion, to affect the detainee's ability to trust.  In fact, Torres recalls, al-Baluchi refused to meet with his lawyers during a visit around the time of the review.  Torres surmises that trust issues had to do with al-Baluchi’s refusal.

Now CDR Ruiz---who Torres addresses as “Walter”---has some questions.  This was a difficult position for you, wasn’t it?  Well, it was challenging, Torres responds.  He acknowledges having expressed concerns about perceived ethical conflicts.  But, he goes on, Torres didn’t review any contents, and he only did his duties because they were assigned him.  Ruiz: you were the top guy for handling high-value detainees, right?  Right, says Torres.  Thus nobody stood between you and CDR Welsh?  Correct, Torres answers again, because of Torres' high clearance.   For those reasons, the witness had expected to retain his responsibilities until his tour’s end at Guantanamo.  But that didn't happen.

Torres had an opportunity to discuss his ethical concerns with Welsh; afterwards, Torres says, he lost his job.   (Ruiz asks whether he was "fired;" this makes the witness visibly uncomfortable.)  The witness's replacement was CDR Jennifer Strazza, an employee of the NSA?  Yes, Torres says, she worked there as a civilian, before taking over for Torres.  Ruiz again: While transitioning your duties, did you discuss your ethical dilemmas with Strazza?  And did Torres and Ruiz ever confer about Strazza's response?  Torres recalls telling Ruiz that, oddly enough, Strazza did not have ethical concerns about reading the detainee mail, as he did.  But Torres thinks Ruiz shouldn’t give that recollection too much weight---maybe he was just angry when he spoke to Ruiz, Torres says.  Torres adds that he gave Strazza his binder of SOP materials, and talked to her by phone when she had questions.  Of course, the witness adds, he was angry at having lost his job.  His high blood pressure also spiked that time, too.  Ruiz: if you handled all high-value detainee matters, then why, Torres, weren’t you involved in the baseline review?  The witness refers Ruiz to Welsh.  You’ll have to ask him, Torres says. The attorney adds a few questions about his client, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, and Torres’ interactions with him.  Similar answers: polite, cooperative detainee.  Ruiz sits, and Judge Pohl excuses the witness.

Torres’ signoff brings CAPT Welsh back to the witness stand.  The court reminds him that Welsh is still under oath. Nevin: did you say earlier that the search of legal bins is ongoing?  No, I didn’t, says Welsh.  Everything, Welsh says, is subject to inspection by guard staff; but the bin reviews have stopped.  The contraband inspection, the witness adds, is the province of another staffer, COL Bogdan. When asked, Thomas reiterates that attorney-client monitoring doesn’t happen at Echo II; Welsh also thinks attorney-client monitoring to be a grave impropriety, which he would flag for supervising attorneys and commanders.  Counsel have no further questions, and thus Welsh, like Torres, is excused.

This brings the day’s work to a close.  We’ll start up tomorrow at 0900, with more witness testimony.  The court notes that tomorrow’s witnesses might well moot several pending motions to compel; he asks counsel to confer on that issue.