Liberal Lawyer Freed Taliban Commando on Frontlines of Kabul Surge

Rebecca Dick won acclaim for defending terrorists at Guantanamo Bay

Gholam Ruhani / YouTube
August 21, 2021

Afghan national Gholan Ruhani maintained his innocence after coalition forces captured him alongside a drug-trafficking militia commander and tossed him in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ruhani, represented by white shoe lawyer Rebecca Dick, said he was "a simple shopkeeper who helped Americans."

Not quite. Days ago, Al Jazeera news captured Ruhani with fellow Taliban militants in the presidential palace in Kabul, as they announced the formation of an Islamic emirate. Ruhani, who cradled a machine gun, recited from the Quran and spoke of his time at Guantanamo.

Dick, then a top-flight attorney at Dechert LLP, represented Ruhani and advocated for his repatriation to Afghanistan. She said in a 2008 interview that her clients were not extremists.

"None expresses any interest in harming the U.S.," she said. "Most affirmatively express support for the Karzai government; the others simply do not want to think about or discuss politics."

Her statements were squarely at odds with Defense Departments assessments, which were vindicated by Ruhani's role in the collapse of the Ghani government. Government reports connected Ruhani to the Taliban's intelligence outfit, highlighted his familial ties to senior Taliban leaders, and correctly anticipated that he would join terrorist groups if released.

Now retired, Dick represented Ruhani and seven other Guantanamo detainees from Dechert's Washington offices. Dechert also represented the Iranian-American businessman and Quincy Institute fellow Amir Handjani and threatened to sue the Washington Free Beacon for defamation over its coverage of Handjani’s role as an adviser to the authoritarian sheikh who rules one of the seven United Arab Emirates with an iron fist.

There are obvious inconsistencies between Ruhani's accounts and the body of evidence assembled against him by the Defense Department. For example, he admitted to performing certain menial tasks for the Taliban intelligence unit in Kabul. But he insisted his primary occupation was with his family's electronics store in Ghazni, a city almost 100 miles southeast of the capital.

He also told interrogators he did not have ties to the regime's intelligence chief, Qari Ahmadullah. Ahmadullah is Ruhani's brother-in-law.

A 2007 Defense Department report concluded that Ruhani worked in the operations department of the Taliban's intelligence arm. It assessed that that he could share information about the Taliban's intelligence infrastructure, operational methods, and communications with intelligence officials. The report anticipated that Ruhani "would probably join [anti-coalition militia] groups dedicated to attacking US and coalition forces in Afghanistan if released."

Lawyering on behalf of Guantanamo detainees was a cause célèbre for much of the legal establishment during the War on Terror. Dick is one of numerous corporate lawyers, scholars, and monied industry groups, including the American Bar Association, that counseled and advocated for the detainees.

The praise they accepted for that work makes a striking contrast with Sunday's scene in Kabul. Both Dick and Dechert declined to comment for this story.

Dick was on hand at the Washington, D.C., Ritz Carlton in 2007 to accept a Beacon of Justice Award from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, given in recognition of Dechert's work on behalf of prisoners at Guantanamo. Dechert highlighted the award in a press release, noting the association selected firms for "providing representation to individuals, despite public criticism." Dechert grossed over $1 billion in revenue in 2020, according to the National Law Journal, making it one of the 50 highest-grossing firms in the world.

The Center for Constitutional Rights cited Dick for "unflagging commitment" to her Guantanamo clients. The center describes itself as a cause-lawyering organization dedicated to "the creative use of law as a positive force for social change."

Dechert itself honored Dick and other colleagues in 2008 at a firm-wide reception that showcased its pro bono accomplishments. She was one of several recipients of the firm's Samuel E. Klein Pro Bono Award. Pictures of the event in a firm newsletter show attendees munching on hors d'oeuvres and drinking champagne.

Published under: Guantanamo , Kabul , Taliban