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Lawyer helps Guantanamo prison detainee

Lawyer helps Guantanamo prison detainee
Man held since '02 back in Saudi Arabia, attorney says

By John Mitchell, jmitchell@venturacountystar.com
Ventura County Star

March 11, 2007

Less than two years ago, attorney Michael Rapkin was introduced to the story of Yousef Abdullah Al-Rabaish, a young Saudi who, like many other foreigners, was imprisoned in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

As publicly documented by the FBI and other organizations, Rapkin said, Al-Rabaish was physically and psychologically tortured by his captors.

"He was beaten before meals by guards with batons and helmets wearing metal knee braces and metal gloves, who forcibly removed him from his cell," he said.

"They broke his bones and forced Yousef into physically stressful positions. They smashed him in the eye while he was praying."

Al-Rabaish was also reportedly without an attorney, denied rights the U.S. Supreme Court said he had, did not know the charges against him and had not had contact with his family since he was captured.

All of this was too much for Rapkin, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He put his San Fernando Valley practice on hold and offered free legal services to the Saudi.

Rapkin's recounting of his relationship with Al-Rabaish was given to a large turnout at Saturday's meeting of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union's Ventura County Chapter in a hall at Camarillo Airport.

Critical of Bush administration

The attorney, along with Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southern California ACLU, generally bashed the administration of President Bush, which, they said, has eroded the basic rights of Americans and foreigners alike. During the more than two-hour meeting, which had an extensive question-and-answer session, no one had a good word for the government's human rights record.

Ripston, who preceded Rapkin, said the U.S. is "coming through one of the worst periods in its history," comparing it to the internment of 120,000 of Japanese immigrants and citizens of Japanese descent at the beginning of World War II.

"This administration is undermining the very essence of American freedom," she said. "They rifle through a person's medical records, round up immigrants and bring them to trial without telling them what the charges are, deny prisoners the right to challenge the length of their imprisonment, and search library and student records even if those people had not engaged in criminal activities."

Last week the Inspector General said the FBI had abused its Patriot Act powers in obtaining Americans' bank, phone, credit and e-mail records in counterterrorism investigations.

Ripston said this latest finding, combined with Democrats now having a majority in Congress, probably means there will some changes made to the Patriot Act.

Detention unjust, attorney says

Rapkin said Al-Rabaish's problems with the American military began in 2001 when he traveled from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to find and bring home a brother who was fighting for the Taliban.

Al-Rabaish was captured turned over to the American military.

"Yousef was not picked up on a battlefield and was not training with al-Qaida," Rapkin said. "What was his crime?"

On Jan. 20, 2002, Al-Rabaish arrived at Guantanamo. The detention camp had opened only nine days before.

Rapkin said Al-Rabaish and other detainees could not file writs of habeas corpus, a judicial mandate to a prison official ordering that an inmate be brought to court so it can be determined if that person is imprisoned lawfully.

"He was rotting in a legal hellhole," Rapkin said. "Donald Rumsfeld said the prisoners there were the worst of the worst, and they were guilty until proven innocent."

Rapkin filed a writ of habeas corpus for Al-Rabaish. In December, the prisoner was sent to a prison in Saudi Arabia.

"I just talked with him by phone," Rapkin said. "He had gone home for five days on his personal recognizance. He will soon be released."

For information about ACLU's Ventura County chapter, call its president, R. Henry, at 578-0563.

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