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Guest column: A closer look at Guantanamo

Green Bay Press Gazette
By Ryan Servais
December 9, 2007

Another round of Guantanamo cases came before the Supreme Court Wednesday as I near the end of a semester representing a prisoner held there for six years. I am a Green Bay area native attending law school in New York City. I earned my undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and opted to go to Fordham Law because of its first-rate international program. Currently, I am participating in Fordham's International Justice Clinic, which represents several Guantanamo prisoners.

When I describe my work to friends and family, I often hear, "Why would you work to free terrorists?" Two incorrect assumptions are implanted in that question. First, I am not working to free anybody, but rather to secure a fair trial for my client. Second, few detainees have ties to terrorism.

The president has established a pseudo tribunal to declare prisoners "enemy combatants." During the flawed procedure, prisoners are not told the basis for their detention, they are effectively barred from presenting exculpatory evidence, and any evidence against the prisoner is presumed true, even that obtained through torture. These limitations render it impossible for a prisoner to rebut the justification for imprisonment (if any exists).

Military brass has spoken out against these defective tribunals. Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham of the Air Force, who participated in them, issued a declaration that is widely thought to have swayed the Supreme Court to hear the coming case. He stated that "what were purported to be specific statements of fact lacked even the most fundamental earmarks of objectively credible evidence." More generally, he characterized the procedure as weighted and inadequate.

Now, on to the assumption that Guantanamo Bay is filled with terrorists; or as Donald Rumsfeld put it, "the worst of the worst." An analysis by Seton Hall University researchers of the government's accusations reveals that only 8 percent of detainees are characterized as al-Qaida fighters, and only 5 percent of detainees were captured by U.S. forces.

The vast bulk of the men at Guantanamo — 86 percent — were captured by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to U.S. custody. Millions of fliers were distributed in Afghanistan and Pakistan offering cash rewards for capturing "terrorists." To quote Rumsfeld again, they dropped "like snowflakes in Chicago in December." Imagine people who have been scratching an existence out of dirt in a war-torn country for 20 years and suddenly have an offer for more money than they've ever seen; all they have to do is point to any Arab and call him a terrorist.

What we are left with is hundreds of prisoners captured by financially motivated groups, rarely charged with wrongdoing, presumed to be enemy combatants, and not given a chance to rebut the presumption. We are advocating for a fair trial, partially to aid the innocents that are imprisoned, and partially to uphold American traditions of due process. This is where the Supreme Court comes in.

My client has been held prisoner for nearly six years, repeatedly subjected to physical abuses, and effectively never allowed to disprove the reasons for his imprisonment. He has hinted in the past that he thinks he might die there, and he might be right. The time that is being robbed from him is irreplaceable. He is missing the events of his close-knit family; births, deaths, and marriages are passing him by.

Six years is a more than sufficient period for the government to give good reason for our client's imprisonment. Hopefully the Supreme Court condemns the sham review process and he gets that to which every human being has a right: a fair trial.

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