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No More Guantanamos

March 2010 Newsletter

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Let's Honor the Guantánamo Lawyers

This month, NMG recognizes the hundreds of attorneys who have donated their time to make sure that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have had legal representation. In the course of their work, they have also spent roughly $50,000 or more per prisoner out-of-pocket on translators, travel, research, legal filings, and the like. NMG hopes that Bagram prisoners may soon be awarded the right to challenge their detentions through the Great Writ. If that happens, several lawyers are prepared to help Bagram prisoners challenge the legality of their detentions.
The Guantánamo lawyers’ hard-won achievements are among the few bright spots in the prison’s eight-year history, ranging from the Supreme Court victories that ultimately granted the men the writ of habeas corpus to the slow but steady stream of habeas judges’ release orders that followed the high court’s 2008 Boumediene ruling. Americans can be thankful not only for the lawyers’ hard work on the prisoners’ behalf, as virtually the only outsiders who are permitted face-to-face visits with the prisoners, but for the compassion they have shown to the prisoners and their families. These lawyers represent us and our country’s laws. They are also our eyes and ears in the prison, and it is largely because of them that we know who the prisoners are and what the prison is like.
Liz Cheney and her organization, Keep America Safe, disagree. They recently produced a YouTube video calling seven former habeas attorneys currently serving in the Department of Justice (DOJ) the “Al Qaeda Seven” and renaming the DOJ the “Department of Jihad.” Several senators, including Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, have questioned the DOJ’s integrity for employing the attorneys. Grassley has suggested that such work may constitute a conflict of interest.
However, neither the senators nor the video have questioned the integrity or patriotism of the military lawyers who represented detainees nor acknowledged that most Guantánamo prisoners have been released without charges by the Bush administration. Nor have the senators commented on the three former habeas counsel who worked in the DOJ under President George W. Bush. Read that story here.
This is not the first time government officials have attacked the habeas lawyers for representing Guantánamo prisoners. In January 2007, Charles “Cully” Stimson, a former Navy JAG officer who was then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, called for businesses to boycott law firms who employed lawyers serving as habeas counsel to “the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001.” A firestorm ensued, and Stimson resigned a few weeks later.
Far from being disloyal or unpatriotic, the Guantánamo lawyers do America proud when they make sure that prisoners at Guantánamo are afforded the right to legal counsel. They should not be barred from government service for having done so.
Many years ago, a retired government official, looking back on his long career, called his defense of British soldiers accused of killing five Americans “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” That proud achievement did not disqualify the lawyer from high office in the federal government. John Adams went on to become the second president of the United States.

News from the Grassroots


Massachusetts News:

On March 19, the Documentary “Outside the Law” Will Be Shown in Northampton
At 7 p.m. on Friday, March 19, at the Media Education Foundation (MEF) in Northampton, the Northampton Committee to Stop the War in Iraq will show Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo, directed by journalist Andy Worthington and Polly Nash. NMG’s Pioneer Valley chapter is cosponsor, and NMG director Nancy Talanian will speak and answer questions from the audience. The documentary features interviews with former detainees Moazzam Begg and Omar Deghayez, plus footage of attorneys Clive Stafford Smith, Tom Wilner, and Gareth Peirce. The showing is free and open to the public.
Northampton Friends approve Guantánamo “minute”
On February 14, the Northampton Friends Meeting approved a minute (the Quakers’ term for a resolution) expressing their desire to help “men wrongly incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay Prison who our government has determined pose no threat to our country.” Read the minute here.
The Northampton Friends’ Justice, Peace and Witness Committee drafted the minute and has sent it to all the Friends Meetings in their Quarter to affirm and send to the New England Yearly Meeting, for the consideration of all Friends Meetings in New England.
Nancy Talanian, NMG’s director, who spoke before the Justice, Peace and Witness Committee in January, called the minute “a positive step toward helping the men wrongly held to regain their freedom and rebuild their lives.”
NMG cosponsors “The Guantánamo Lawyers” programs in Western Massachusetts
On February 22, coeditors, Mark Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz and several attorneys for Guantánamo Bay detainees read essays from the book The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law at public events held at Western New England College School of Law, Springfield, and Amherst Books, Amherst. Denbeaux and Hafetz were joined by Buz Eisenberg, Ellen Lubell, and William Newman at the programs sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and cosponsored by NMG.

Colorado News:

Fort Collins’ detainee released to Albania
In late February, the Albanian government allowed three cleared Guantánamo detainees to settle in their country. Among the three men was Abdul Rauf al-Qusin, whom NMG’s Colorado chapter, Strength Through Peace of Fort Collins, had chosen to support. Al-Qusin, a Libyan, had been cleared since 2006 but could not return to his home country, where he had served in the army for 6 years, then deserted to escape religious persecution. He emigrated to Afghanistan, where he met and married his Afghan wife, Rahima, who was pregnant at the time of his capture. NMG hopes Mr. Qusin will be able to reunite with his wife and to see their daughter, Khiria, now 8 years old, for the first time. See a photo of Rahima and Khiria here.

In the Courts


Obama Administration Considers Military Commissions to Try Terrorism Suspects

The Obama administration is reconsidering its plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other terrorism suspects in civilian courts.  In the face of unyielding political pressure by members of Congress, the administration may try the men via military commission.  Since 2002, only three suspects have been tried and convicted by military commission, and two of the three are now free men.  During the same time period, hundreds of terrorism suspects have been tried and convicted in federal Article III courts.
According to a Washington Post article, administration advisors are recommending the venue change hoping that Congress will then give the administration the funding and authority it needs to close Guantánamo Bay prison and to move its inmates to a facility within the U.S.  We believe it would be wrong to change the trial venue on the basis of politics and would set a dangerous precedent.

Supreme Court’s Dismissal May Further Delay Releases of Cleared Detainees

The Supreme Court’s March 1 decision to dismiss the case of Kiyemba v. Obama, due to the changed circumstances of the Guantánamo Bay Uighurs, affects the resettlement not only of the Uighurs but of other Guantánamo detainees who have also been cleared but who cannot return to their home countries. Had the court heard the case, it would have considered whether Congress had the authority to prevent prisoners’ transfer into the U.S., among other issues.
The Supreme Court vacated (voided) the DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturning DC District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina’s October 2008 ruling. Judge Urbina had ordered the government to release the Uighurs into the U.S. However, in February 2009, the court of appeals sided with the Obama administration and ruled that only the executive and legislative branches had the power to make immigration decisions. The attorneys and prisoners now must wait for the appellate court’s next decision.

Background, Kiyemba v. Bush. As early as 2003, the Bush administration knew that most if not all of the Uighur prisoners at Guantánamo were captured and imprisoned in error. However, the men could not be sent home to China without risk of persecution. Five years later, lawyers for the 17 Uighurs still imprisoned presented their habeas corpus petition, Kiyemba v. Bush, before Federal District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina. Supporting the legal team’s case were a Uighur community in Fairfax County, Virginia, that was ready to welcome most of the men, and an interfaith coalition in Tallahassee, Florida, that had prepared a detailed plan to provide for the housing and well-being of three others. The coalition, organized by former Guantánamo habeas attorney Kent Spriggs, is currently a chapter of NMG, and its resettlement plan and related documents are on our website here.

In October 2008, Judge Urbina ruled that unless another country could be found to take the men, then they should be released into the U.S. The administration appealed to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with the administration. The Uighurs appealed their case (now Kiyemba v. Obama) to the Supreme Court, which had planned to hear the appeal later this month. However, the Obama administration had focused attention on finding other countries for the 17 men in order and urged the Supreme Court to declare the case moot. Since President Obama has taken office, four Uighur prisoners have been resettled in Bermuda, two in Switzerland, and six in Palau (population about 21,000). The five Uighurs who remain at Guantánamo do not want to settle in Palau, where they fear they would not be safe from the Chinese government.

District Court Rules on Wrongful Death Suit

On February 16, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 prevents the family members of Guantánamo prisoners who died in custody from suing the U.S. government or government officials for their mistreatment. The case was brought by the parents of two of the three prisoners who died on June 10, 2006, Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami. New evidence may indicate the men’s alleged suicides may have been homicides. 

NMG News

NMG director speaks at Robert M. Cover Retreat, New Hampshire

Nancy Talanian joined attorneys Ben Wizner of the ACLU and Buz Eisenberg in a February 27 workshop on Guantánamo. The workshop was part of the 22nd annual Cover retreat at Camp Sargent in Hancock, NH. The workshop’s participants were public interest law students, professors, and practitioners from the Eastern, Mid-Eastern, and Southern United States. 

No More Guantánamos
P.O. Box 618
Whately, MA 01093
Telephone: 413-665-1150
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