Gitmo 10 years later: Speakers share experience of representing detainees

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan joined with Amnesty International, the American Constitution Society and the National Lawyers Guild to present "Ten Years After: News from Guantanamo" on Friday, Jan. 20, at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

Renowned human rights attorney William Goodman and ACLU of Michigan Legal Fellow Sarah Mehta shared their experiences and observations of representing Guantanamo Bay detainees. Goodman has been active in defense of civil rights and human rights since the 1960s and Mehta is recognized for her work on immigration issues and is author of "Deportation by Default: Mental Disability, Unfair Hearings, and Indefinite Detention in the U.S. Immigration System."

The first 20 detainees arrived at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base facility in 2002 with hundreds eventually imprisoned and more than 170 still held, despite vows by the current administration that it would close the camp.

Interrogation techniques have been used that have drawn severe criticism both at home and abroad and prisoners are kept in conditions, including prolonged solitary confinement, that would not be used within U.S. borders.

In addition to conditions, the legal process of military commissions removes many protections that the accused would have in the federal court system, according to Goodman.

"What Guantanamo tells us, what we can see on this tenth anniversary is something that is profoundly political," said Goodman. "I want you to imagine for a moment that 10 years after 9/11, the president had gotten on the radio and said, 'My fellow Americans, this country is under attack. We are seeing the destruction of our cities, we are seeing the destruction of our education system, we are seeing the destruction of our health care system, we are seeing the destruction of our middle class. We are under attack, we are at war. We are at war with the 1 percent. Therefore, I have ordered the FBI to seize the wealthiest Americans. They will be held at Guantanamo Bay. They will not have the right to counsel and we are stripping the courts of the right to issue a writ of habeas corpus.'

"I wondered how I would react to that," Goodman said.

Mehta found the experience of visiting the prison camp in Cuba profoundly unsettling, even for an attorney who thought she was hardened to prison conditions.

"Last year I was asked to substitute for someone else as a human rights monitor at Guantanamo," said Mehta. "I thought there was not that much new to say, but I came back practically shell-shocked. I was both moved and horrified by the experience."

In the question and answer period that followed the presentation, both attorneys were repeatedly asked when they thought Guantanamo prison would close and what individuals could do to hasten that day. Neither was optimistic. They recommended persistent pressure on lawmakers and media outlets to keep the issue in front of citizens.

Published: Fri, Feb 3, 2012


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