- Attorney who is a leading defender of Guantanamo Bay detainees suspected of terrorism
Born in 1967, Marc Falkoff is an attorney who teaches courses in criminal law, criminal procedure, lawyering skills, and habeas corpus at Northern Illinois University (NIU) Law School. He previously taught classes in post-conviction remedies and prisoners’ rights at Brooklyn Law School, and he taught literature for a year at Purchase College in New York. A 2001 graduate of Columbia Law School, Falkoff also holds a Ph.D. in American Literature from Brandeis University, an M.A. from the University of Michigan, and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. During his years in law school, Falkoff worked for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, and later for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York, where he focused primarily on death penalty work and prisoners’ rights.
Prior to joining the NIU faculty, Falkoff was an associate at the law firm of Covington & Burling, where he was the principal attorney in the habeas representation of 17 Yemeni men detained by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay. Professing to be “proud to represent them,” Falkoff deems these detainees entirely harmless. “I would invite any one of them to sleep over at my apartment,” he says. “None of these guys are terrorists. None of these guys is a danger to the United States.”
In a May 2005 interview, Falkoff condemned what he characterized as the “abusive treatment of the detainees,” complaining that when they had first been brought by plane to the island, “all were shackled hand and foot, blind-folded and ear-muffed.” They “were treated roughly from the start, shoved and beaten about the head and shoulders [and were] ordered to assume kneeling positions for hours on end,” Falkoff elaborated, all after they had “just been subjected to a nauseating 20-hour flight from Afghanistan.”
Falkoff lamented that the detainees’ “first shelters [in Guantanamo]were tiny makeshift open-air cages largely unshaded from the brutal Caribbean sun,” which eventually were replaced by “windowless shipping containers that were retrofitted with a steel bunk and toilet”; that “[t]he men have been repeatedly interrogated since their arrival — some at least a hundred times in the three years that they have been there — a patent violation of the Geneva Conventions”; that they “ha[ve] been given given inadequate medical care and, in many cases, barely enough food to survive”; that “[s]everal of our clients have lost as much as 25% of their body weight”; and that “nearly all require substantial medical care.”
Falkoff further charged that “the military decided to exploit, for interrogation purposes, the detainees’ religious self-identity.” “One of the most frequent punishments for violations of the camp’s disciplinary rules,” he reported, “is the confiscation of a detainee’s trousers. … [This] punishment prevents these devout Muslim men from engaging in their prayers, since they are required to be covered from head to foot during their devotions. … The military, in other words, has calculatedly chosen to disrupt the detainees’ free exercise of religion to further its goal of coercing intelligence from them.”
“Equally disturbing,” said Falkoff, “is that the detainees are stripped of prayer items — such as oils and beads — as their disciplinary ‘grade’ is reduced. A detainee with a ‘clean’ record is categorized as grade one, and is allowed a full panoply of devotional objects. If a disciplinary infraction results in reclassification to grade two, the detainee’s prayer mat is taken from him. At grade three, his prayer beads and two of three prayer oils are confiscated. Finally, at grade four, all items except for the Quran are taken from him.”
According to Falkoff, the detainees also had been subjected to “sexual abuse” in the form of interrogation by sexually provocative female questioners attired in tight-fitting clothes: “[T]o a devout Muslim man who is striving to remain chaste in body and soul, this kind of treatment is — and was designed to be — abusive.”
Citing “frequent reports” of guards “playing games” with the Quran, Falkoff added: “Policy in the camp is for the detainees’ Qurans never to be handled by non-Muslims. Many have complained, however, that their Qurans have been purposely disrespected by non-Muslim guards who have handled the holy book in an effort to agitate the detainees. Sometimes we hear even more serious accusations, such as Qurans being thrown to the floor, stepped on and even wrapped in an Israeli flag, all with the obvious intent of antagonizing the detainees. There is little reason to believe that these are mere rumors. The military has recently acknowledged that two dozen men tried to hang themselves over the course of a single day about one year ago; our clients have told us that the reason for the mass suicide attempt was that a detainee’s Quran was disrespected in the manner described above.”
In August 2007 Falkoff published (via the University of Iowa Press) an 84-page volume of poems written by Guantanamo Bay detainees, titled Poems From Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak. “The poetry,” says Falkoff, “has been a way for them to keep some hold on their humanity, to maintain their dignity, just to fight against the void of just an existence at Guantanamo that can be really mind-numbing.” Explaining that his objective in producing this book was to “humanize the men,” Falkoff praised their admirable “desire to create” something of value even under the most trying circumstances. Profits generated by the book’s sale go to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has spearheaded the movement to defend the Guantanamo detainees.