'I will never leave Guantanamo'
by Sabin Willett
December 3, 2007
"WE HAVE important news for you!"
Chained to the floor of a cell in Camp Six, Guantanamo, Joseph said nothing. But he had some news for us, too.
The Court of Appeals had decided what record - what pieces of paper - it would examine when it considered his "Detainee Treatment Act" case. This was big. For months, we urged the Bush administration to release its exculpatory evidence about Joseph. The administration fought back hard. And we'd won - a brilliant victory!
"What do they say - these papers?" Joseph asked.
An awkward pause followed. We didn't exactly have them yet. The government had moved for reconsideration, filed affidavits, more briefs. There might be further appeals. It was complicated. The order came down in July, and now it was October. They hadn't produced a page. But it was a great victory!
Joseph listened in silence. During six years of US imprisonment he's heard this sort of thing before. All this talk from American lawyers about American courts - in Camp Six a man can't be sure that American courts exist at all, but if they do, it is certain that nothing ever comes of them but essays. No one alleges that Joseph was ever a terrorist, or a soldier, or a criminal. The military told him in 2002 he was innocent. Again in 2003. Again in 2006. He filed a habeas petition in 2005. He would be gone if the military could find a country to take him.
When Senator Joseph Lieberman and the other guardians of freedom in Congress stripped his habeas rights, he filed a Detainee Treatment Act petition. That was 11 months ago.
For two years and three months he'd been asking the federal judiciary to hear a few simple facts. No judge ever has.
"I also have something important to tell you," Joseph said. "About my wife."
What came next was deeply personal. (It is why I use "Joseph," a pseudonym for this good husband.) A Muslim, he does not like to speak to me of such personal things. But he had no choice. Camp Six is complete isolation. The men call it the dungeon above the ground. He is held alone in a metal cell, denied any contact with companions, books, news, the world - with his wife or child.
North Korea used this isolation technique against our airmen in 1952. We know a good idea when we see it, so the taxpayers paid $30 million to Dick Cheney's former company to duplicate North Korea.
The bunks had to be filled. Joseph got one. And so a message through me was the only way he could do his duty by her.
"I want you to tell her that it is time for her . . .. to move on."
"You mean . . .?"
"Yes. I will never leave Guantanamo."
His affect was flat, his voice soft. He looked up only once, when he said to me, urgently, "She must understand I am not abandoning her. That I love her. But she must move on with her life. She is getting older."
We are all getting older. Guantanamo is now far older than any World-War-II POW camp. Hope fled the sunless gloom of Camp Six long ago.
Joseph slips with the others down isolation's slope. He stands in the twilight. Beyond, the darkness of insanity beckons. He seems ready to surrender to it.
Somewhere in a file drawer in Guantanamo is a copy of the memo that clears Joseph for release. But it was written in 2006, and is as forgotten as he is. So the good husband did the last thing a man in isolation can do. He set his wife free from her husband's prison.
Not to worry, Joseph! Our federal judges are at their posts! They are making important rulings in your case - earnestly debating the important question of which pieces of paper to look at!
Sabin Willett is a partner at Bingham McCutchen, which represents prisoners at the Guantanamo prison.
Get original here.