Diary of a Guantánamo Attorney

Guantanamo Prison

It doesn’t matter if these people are being charged with terrorism, under U.S. and international law (Geneva Conventions, anybody?) you don’t get to snatch people off the streets, lock them up and torture them for 3 years or more without they knowing what they actually did to deserve that fate, then deny them their right to an attorney.

Just because I believe everyone has the right to face their captors and the evidence against them does NOT mean I am “for the terrorists”. Bush says the terrorists hate us and “our freedoms” so it is kind of stupid to take those same rights and throw them into the shitter:

I had assumed that I was well-informed about our criminal president and his assault on the rule of law; it never occurred to me that four years after being captured (and more than one year after the Supreme Court affirmed their right to hearing and counsel) individuals were still being held without legal representation. I replied to the e-mail, offering my services.

During a conference call for volunteer lawyers, I got a sense of what the job might entail. For example, attorneys are required to turn their client notes over to the government after visiting prisoners. I naively asked, “What about attorney-client privilege?” This, like so many other protections and legal principles, doesn’t apply to Guantánamo. Attorneys often return from the base with urgent news, but have to wait weeks for the government to clear their notes. The government rarely, if ever, classifies the content; this procedure simply delays and encumbers our work.

At a workshop for volunteer lawyers organized by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), I came to learn of the horrific particulars of prisoner life in Guantánamo: the hunger strikes, the suicide attempts and the dubious circumstances under which prisoners had been captured. The vast majority of Guantánamo’s inmates were apprehended in Afghanistan and elsewhere by third party forces, after the United States promised enormous bounties for “murderers and terrorists.”

The entire article is below the fold:

January 16, 2007
Diary of a Guantánamo Attorney

In These Times
By H. Candace Gorman

I fell into the world of Guantánamo in October 2005. The Chicago Council of Lawyers had organized a luncheon discussion on the legal issues surrounding the infamous detention facility at the U.S. naval base in eastern Cuba. I received an e-mail thanking me for my attendance (I should have gone but didn’t) and asking for volunteers to represent the nearly 200 known unrepresented prisoners at the base.

I had assumed that I was well-informed about our criminal president and his assault on the rule of law; it never occurred to me that four years after being captured (and more than one year after the Supreme Court affirmed their right to hearing and counsel) individuals were still being held without legal representation. I replied to the e-mail, offering my services.

During a conference call for volunteer lawyers, I got a sense of what the job might entail. For example, attorneys are required to turn their client notes over to the government after visiting prisoners. I naively asked, “What about attorney-client privilege?” This, like so many other protections and legal principles, doesn’t apply to Guantánamo. Attorneys often return from the base with urgent news, but have to wait weeks for the government to clear their notes. The government rarely, if ever, classifies the content; this procedure simply delays and encumbers our work.

At a workshop for volunteer lawyers organized by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), I came to learn of the horrific particulars of prisoner life in Guantánamo: the hunger strikes, the suicide attempts and the dubious circumstances under which prisoners had been captured. The vast majority of Guantánamo’s inmates were apprehended in Afghanistan and elsewhere by third party forces, after the United States promised enormous bounties for “murderers and terrorists.”

That December, I was assigned a detainee by CCR; his name was Abdul Al-Ghizzawi, a Libyan who had been living in Afghanistan before his capture. Another prisoner had written a letter identifying Al-Ghizzawi as someone who desired an attorney. Because the government would not release the names of detainees, prisoners often reached lawyers through such indirect means. I got to work preparing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus—a petition that challenges the legality of a prisoner’s detention and requests that the court order the authorities to either release the individual or justify his imprisonment with formal charges.

It has been a year since I filed the petition, and Al-Ghizzawi is still languishing in Guantánamo. Initially, the government did everything possible to delay and obstruct access to my client. I knew only that my client was ill, that he wanted an attorney and that the government opposed entering the protective order that would allow me to visit and communicate with him.

Shortly after I filed the habeas petition, in a false gesture of munificence, the government invited my input into the Justice Department’s review of Al-Ghizzawi’s status. What could I possibly say? As I wrote the review board, “Without knowing the reasons for Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s detention, it is impossible to address those reasons or the factual basis for continuing to detain him.” I added that I would supplement the submission once I had had a chance to meet and interview him.

Eventually, after what then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would call a “long hard slog,” the protective order was entered. In July, eight months after filing the habeas petition, I was finally allowed to go to Guantánamo and meet with my client, a sick and visibly jaundiced man who pined for his wife and young daughter.

Al-Ghizzawi was a shopkeeper who sold bread, honey and other goods in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. When the American bombs started falling, he took his wife and daughter to the village where his in-laws lived. He then became one of those unlucky foreigners captured and turned in for a bounty. According to the Bush administration, all of the detainees were apprehended “on the battlefield”—in this case, the quiet home of Al-Ghizzawi’s in-laws.

My ultimate aim is to release Al-Ghizzawi and reunite him with his family. However, my immediate goal is to keep him alive. The medical staff at Guantánamo have diagnosed Al-Ghizzawi with tuberculosis and hepatitis B but failed to inform or treat him for either condition. I have been fighting for access to Al-Ghizzawi’s medical records, but a D.C. district judge ruled that we had not demonstrated that he would suffer “irreparable harm” in being denied his records. Imagine, I need his records in order to prove that he will suffer “irreparable harm,” but cannot access them without first proving “irreparable harm.” (I have appealed that ruling.)

This is just one example. As I will relate in this space in the coming months, there is no rhyme or reason to the world of Guantánamo—only a cruel inhumanity.

Adrian Bleifuss Prados, the author’s law clerk, contributed to this column.

7 Responses to Diary of a Guantánamo Attorney

  1. deadissue says:

    Hopefully you haven’t been picked up by the feds already – – – Thanks for posting this! I’m linking to your site from http://deadissue.com, and if you get the chance to take a look, perhaps at this post:

    http://deadissue.com/archives/2007/01/23/the-murder-of-maher-arar/

    Maybe you could do the same. Keep the information flowing, as it’s the only thing power on this scale can possibly fear!

    Peace – DI

  2. truly.equal says:

    I don’t expect the feds around here anytime soon (don’t they have better things to do?) and I definitely appreciate the link. I remember that hearing with Alberto Gonzales as well and it was beyond disgraceful. Worst of all, the guy is Latin, just as me, so all it made me do was sick and angry.

  3. Been There says:

    Who is compensating you for this great job for mankind? Maybe you can sell this work of fiction to Hollywood.

  4. truly.equal says:

    You mean you don’t believe the story is true?

  5. Antibush says:

    Bush and the Republicans were not protecting us on 9-11, and we aren’t a lot safer now. We may be more afraid due to george bush, but are we safer? Being fearful does not necessarily make one safer. Fear can cause people to hide and cower. What do you think? What is he doing to us, and what is he doing to the world?
    Are we safer today than we were before?
    We have lost friends and influenced no one. No wonder most of the world thinks we suck. Thanks to what george bush has done to our country during the past three years, we do!

  6. nizam ali says:

    I am deeply touched by this article.”seek Gods help with patience, persecerance and prayer. .For God loves those who patiently persevere.”

  7. Extremely nice article, definitely informative information. Never believed I would find the tips I need in this article. I have been hunting everywhere in the net for a while now and was starting to get disappointed. Luckily, I stumbled onto your internet site and received precisely what I had been struggling to find.

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