CHAUTAUQUA - Col. Morris Davis is a critic of the process he once defended.
Davis, the former chief prosecutor for the Military Commissions of Guantanamo Bay and the keynote speaker during Tuesday afternoon's eighth annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs, spoke on his objection of torture and waterboarding, specifically the government's use of evidence received through torture. Morris refused to prosecute terrorists using such evidence and eventually resigned for his refusal to do so.
Davis also believed that suspects should all be tried in the same court instead of trying them in two places, federal court or a military commission.
Col. Morris Davis speaks to fellow prosecutors during the eighth annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs on Tuesday at the Anthenaeum Hotel.
P-J photo by Jimmy McCarthy
On Oct. 21, 2008, Davis retired from the military and began campaigning for President Barack Obama.
"Davis is an outspoken advocate of a lot of the kinds of issues that we hold dear to our heart," said Michael Scharff, interim dean and professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. "He wants regulation of autonomous weapon systems; he's been a critic of U.S. policy on using drones; and this summer he's been writing in opposition of U.S. military intervention into Iraq."
After his resignation, Davis served as assistant director and senior specialist in national security, director of the Air Force Judiciary at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., and recently was executive director and counsel of the Crimes of War Education Project in Washington, D.C. Now he's an assistant professor of lawyering skills at Howard University School of Law. Davis touched on where the United States has been in terms of policies and tactics in the past, and where he wants those aspects to go in the future. He spoke on the closing of Guantanamo Bay which Obama ordered on January 2009.
"Life was looking pretty smooth," Davis said. "Then that summer when things began to backtrack, President Obama began to waffle on closing Guantanamo and Gen. Eric Holder announced the reconsidering of military commissions."
After Davis resigned in October 2008, he became the lead critic for closing Guantanamo Bay. He once supported the place inside the doors, and now he stood at the steps of Congress relaying a message of opposition. Seeing both sides of the equation, he's often asked which side is the truth. Both sides were true, he explained, but once the Pentagon became the head of the military commissions, he was told that evidence obtained through torture would be used.
"I believe that when I took the job, we were committed to having full fair open trials," Davis said. "He (the president) said evidence being learned needs to get out so we get these guys convicted and get the show on the road. And that was when I chose to resign."
Regarding Guantanamo Bay, Davis said that the detainees are known as unlawful enemy combatants, and that term is found nowhere in the Geneva Conventions. It was a term used to avoid the Geneva Conventions, according to Davis. The conventions, which the U.S. led the effort to create, were intended to bring the world to a high standard, to show the world what the country stood for.
"For 200 years, our structure was a belief in the law," Davis said. "And now, we're trying to avoid the law by coming up with a new classification defending a place like Guantanamo Bay that we thought was outside the roots of the law. In my view, we turned our back on what had been our strength for 200 years. To me, what made us exceptional was a belief in the law."
With the recent debate on the drone system, Davis said he wasn't necessarily opposed to it since it's another weapon system. The weapon itself doesn't concern Davis, it's the policy in which they use it.
"What really concerns me the most about it is that it's a violation of sovereignty when we fly a drone over someone's territory and we launch an attack," Davis said. "It also concerns me that we don't have a drone program. We have drone programs. We have a drone military program and the CIA."
In May 2013, the president said that the U.S. is at a crossroads and that the country has to decide which way we go. Davis said that the rhetoric is outstanding, but it's yet to match the reality. Davis believes that the country is in fact at a crossroads, but a decision has yet to be made on what direction it's headed.
"The world is watching not just what we do overseas but also what we do at home, like Ferguson," Davis said. "We're at a crossroads and what is it we want to say about who we are as Americans."