In a case that The New York Times said "may be the most significant trial of our lifetimes," Penn Law School professor Alka Pradhan will defend Ammar al-Baluchi, who has remained a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
The United States has charged Baluchi and four co-defendants with conspiracy, terrorism, hijacking, and 2,976 counts of murder. Pradhan will serve as "human rights council" and said her primary objective is to detail Baluchi’s torture and mistreatment while in custody for more than 13 years. To the best of her ability, she said she will emphasize human rights protected by the Geneva Conventions, which state that not only can tortured prisoners not be executed, but it also states that they must be rehabilitated.
Pradhan — who holds a B.A. in International Relations, an M.A. in International Law and South Asia Studies, a J.D., and an LL.M. in International Human Rights — said she has always been drawn to international law. Her career as a Guantanamo attorney began on the "habeas side," representing "low-value detainees" in litigation regarding habeas corpus claims and detention conditions.
“She has helped bring a global spotlight on the defense of detainees and continues to have a transformative impact on the legal regime applicable to them,” Penn Law professor and Director of Perry World House William Burke-White said. “[Pradhan] has been a champion of the due process rights and fair procedures for detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”
In 2015, when Baluchi was granted the opportunity to add a member to his team, Pradhan was at the top of his list. Since then, in addition to teaching "International Human Rights Post 9/11" in spring 2017 and 2018 at Penn Law, Pradhan has traveled to Guantanamo every month or two to speak with Baluchi.
Piecing together what happened to Baluchi while in U.S. custody can be difficult for the defense, Pradhan said, as there exists a wealth of evidence and documents to which only the prosecution has access.
“This is the biggest criminal trial in U.S. history and we are not being given the basic information that we should be given to properly defend someone in a capital trial,” Pradhan said.
Pradhan added that she said does not even know when the case, which is still in pretrial motions, will reach trial — and she currently believes this day is far away, if it will come at all.
Even if a trial is held, Pradhan said human rights violations make it impossible for that trial to be fair since “all of the evidence is tainted."
“From the first moment a detainee is water-boarded or walled, I don’t think it’s possible to hold a fair trial,” she said. “Most of the statements and documents are from after their years of torture.”
Despite the difficulties of Pradhan's latest case, her students and colleagues have confidence in her abilities.
“It is quite rare in law school to find a professor who has both such a strong grasp on the legal doctrine and practical experience,” Penn Law graduate and former student of Pradhan, Patricia Stottlemyer said. “It was really a formative and unique experience.”