Swannanoa – Congressional candidate Moe Davis revealed his insights into the complicated world of dealing with terrorist suspects, in an exclusive interview with The Tribune Papers. He also explained why he opposed torture of terrorist suspect detainees so strongly, it sparked his departure from two high-level jobs in the two prior presidential administrations.
Morris “Moe” Davis, 62, is the Democrat running against Republican Madison Cawthorn for the House District 11 seat in N.C. Davis was most recently a federal labor judge. After retiring from the bench, he and his wife Lisa moved from D.C. to Asheville in May of 2019. The retired colonel served 25 years in the Air Force, retiring in 2008.
He was most notably the military’s chief prosecutor of terrorist suspects, who held in the “Gitmo” U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Davis resigned in 2007, in defying an order to use evidence
obtained through torture. For his stand, he was named among Those Who Dared: 30 Officials Who Stood Up For Our Country, as chosen by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
“We do not need another liberal lawyer, who stands up for the rights of terrorists. Instead of the rights of Americans,” Cawthorn said Sept. 5 in the second of their three congressional debates.
“I’m proud of my record at Guantanamo,” Davis responded then. “I didn’t defend terrorists. I defended American values and the rule of law. And I’d do it again.”
Next in his career, Davis was the Congressional Research Service’s assistant director and senior specialist in national security, based at the Library of Congress. He advised eight congressional committees.
Once again, Davis departed over Gitmo detainee torture. This time, he was fired. It was after he wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal criticizing the Obama Administration’s handling of those prosecutions. He won a lawsuit challenging his dismissal, on grounds of free speech rights.
Earlier, he was director of the Air Force Judiciary and law professor at Howard University. Davis said in the second debate he is “fiscally responsible,” and has a master’s degree in government procurement and fiscal policy.
The 1976 Shelby High grad held the Golden Lions’ record for longest discus throw. He said he lived in Avery County (now in the 11th District) starting in 1978, and in D.C. “I’ve had boots on the ground here, for a very long time,” he said in the second debate. Davis said he lives near Warren Wilson College, in Swannanoa in northeastern Buncombe County.
“Experience Matters” is a Davis campaign slogan. He says his skill-set as a federal labor judge transfers to addressing legislative matters, if he becomes a congressman, he said in his chat with The Tribune Sept. 22. “It helps. You learn to be objective, and not overcome by emotion. As a judge, you’re trained to look at the facts of the law — and to apply them to come up with an objective opinion.”
He noted, “Many folks came before me who I felt sympathetic to. But the law and facts were not on their side. I had to make a decision that I personally did not find agreeable.”
Earlier, he had to weigh each case’s facts, as a prosecutor at Gitmo. He said he had to decide if “there is sufficient evidence” to go to trial. “Being a prosecutor is about doing justice. It’s not about vengeance, retribution or payback. It’s looking in an objective way — on if a crime is committed, if it warrants prosecution, and (if so) assessing the appropriate penalty.”
Davis described in detail his views about interrogation of terrorist suspects. He clarified facts revolving around terrorist suspect Mohamedou Ould Slahi (“Slah-hee”). In their first congressional debate, on Sept. 4, Cawthorn attacked Davis for supposedly representing Slahi and indicated Slahi was convicted and imprisoned.
Instead, Davis noted he was the prosecutor, and explained to The Tribune why Slahi’s “case never went to trial.” Slahi was released from Gitmo in 2016, after being held there 14 years and reportedly underwent “enhanced interrogation.”
In a strategy session of the National Counterterrorism Center in D.C. Davis was in, he said “there was unanimous agreement between all agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA, Defense) involved, that there was no (substantial) evidence to prosecute.”
“There were circumstantial pieces. On the surface, it looked odd. But there was no real evidence he ever had a role in any active terrorism,” Davis said.
Slahi was linked to “Millennium Bomber” Ahmed Ressam since “Slahi had lived in (Montreal then Vancouver) Canada, and attended the same mosque” that Ressam did, Davis said. Algerian Ressam was convicted in 2001 of planning to bomb LAX airport on New Year’s Eve of 1999.
Davis quit as prosecutor at Guantanamo in ‘07, largely in protest of “waterboarding” and other harsh torture of terrorist suspects there.
He was involved in legal proceedings, not interrogation, but relied on how genuine its evidence seemed. “People were taken to Guantanamo primarily to exploit them for intelligence,” Davis said. “That is separate from criminal prosecution — which my lane was.”
Davis told The Tribune severe torture can backfire, with the suspect making up a story to simply end the pain. At issue is “whether the information you’re obtaining is reliable,” Davis said, giving the
prosecutor’s perspective. “My belief torture is a great way to make people talk. But it’s a horrible way to make them tell the truth.”
Is the detainee’s body language a clue about sincerity? “Each case is unique,” Davis said. “There’s not common criteria, to apply across the board.”
When asked what else other than waterboarding was excessive interrogation, Davis said that also varies. “It’s a subjective determination. You can’t put it on a spectrum, and strike a bright line that would apply in every case.”
Proponents of it say waterboarding can uncover crucial and genuine intel, from Islamic hardliners who otherwise will not squeal. A famed use of waterboarding was on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, IDed as al-Qaeda’s mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. He was apprehended in Pakistan in 2003. His U.S. military trial finally began — in this January.
Mohammed’s intel reportedly identified a courier and confidante of al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden, and led Navy SEALs to find bin Laden’s secret hideout and kill him on May 2, 2011.
For more on Moe Davis and his campaign, check moedavisforcongress.com.