Defending the Defenseless

Pentagon official
Charles Stimson set off a media storm with
his recent comments about lawyers who defend Guantanamo Bay
detainees. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Detainee Affairs called it ‘shocking’ that major law firms would
stoop to defend alleged terrorists. He also insinuated that
clients might show their patriotism by boycotting those law
firms. The American Bar Association
and others in the legal profession quickly
lambasted Stimson for the remarks, and
he has since apologized. But as recent news
reports show, such ludicrous quips are the least of worries
faced by lawyers defending inmates at the Guantanamo Bay Naval
Base.

Writing for the
Philadelphia City Paper, Doron Taussig
profiles the efforts of one detainee lawyer and concludes that
‘practicing law in Guantanamo Bay is a bit like complaining to
referees in street ball. There is no law in Guantanamo
Bay.’ One factor contributing to this legal void is the total
lack of precedent in the trials of detainees. Lawyers practicing
inside the United States rely on precedents created by past
decisions to construct their arguments. But Guantanamo Bay
detainees are being tried by military commissions, during which
legal precedents set in the country’s federal courts don’t
apply. This situation, Taussig writes, thwarts almost any
attempt to construct a compelling defense.

What’s more, those shepherding detainees through this legal
minefield are often lawyers who didn’t choose to be on the case.
Such is the case with Taussig’s subject, Thomas Bogar, an Army
Reserve lieutenant colonel who was chosen by the military to defend
Abdul Zahir, also known as Guantanamo Bay detainee number 753. As a
tax attorney — not a trial lawyer — and a one-time Republican
candidate for school board, Bogar seems ill equipped to defend his
client. But with an almost-naïve optimism and determination, he
tells Taussig ‘I intend to win.’

Such optimism isn’t shared by H. Candace Gorman, a private
lawyer voluntarily representing detainee Abdul Al-Ghizzawi. In an
article for
In These Times, Gorman voices her
frustrations over the legal system devised for Guantanamo Bay. The
government denies basic legal protections to detainees, such as the
right to attorney-client privilege, and lawyers are routinely
barred access to their clients. The system of bureaucratic
obstruction and the lack of legal justification have led Gorman to
conclude that ‘there is no rhyme or reason to the world of
Guantanamo — only a cruel inhumanity.’

Go there >>
The Advocate

Go there too >>
Diary of a Guantanamo Attorney

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