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The Guantánamo Lawyers

The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law

Mark P. Denbeaux
Jonathan Hafetz
Grace A. Brown
Michelle Fish
Jillian Gautier
Mark Muoio
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    The Guantánamo Lawyers
    Book Description:

    Read free excerpts from the book at and explore the complete archive of narratives at

    Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States imprisoned more than seven hundred and fifty men at its naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. These men, ranging from teenage boys to men in their eighties from over forty different countries, were detained for years without charges, trial, and a fair hearing. Without any legal status or protection, they were truly outside the law: imprisoned in secret, denied communication with their families, and subjected to extreme isolation, physical and mental abuse, and, in some instances, torture.

    These are the detainees' stories, told by their lawyers because the prisoners themselves were silenced. It took habeas counsel more than two years-and a ruling from the United States Supreme Court-to finally gain the right to visit and talk to their clients at Guantánamo. Even then, lawyers were forced to operate under severe restrictions designed to inhibit communication and envelop the prison in secrecy. In time, however, lawyers were able to meet with their clients and bring the truth about Guantánamo to the world.

    The Guantánamo Lawyerscontains over one hundred personal narratives from attorneys who have represented detainees held at "GTMO" as well as at other overseas prisons, from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to secret CIA jails or "black sites." Mark Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz-themselves lawyers for detainees-collected stories that cover virtually every facet of Guantánamo, and the litigation it sparked. Together, these moving, powerful voices create a historical record of Guantánamo's legal, human, and moral failings, and provide a window into America's catastrophic effort to create a prison beyond the law.

    An online archive, hosted by New York University Libraries, will be available at the time of publication and will contain the complete texts as well as other accounts contributed by Guantánamo lawyers. The documents will be freely available on the Internet for research, teaching, and non-commercial uses, and will be preserved indefinitely as a historical collection.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8528-7
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Mark P. Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz

    Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States imprisoned more than 750 men at its naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoners ranged in age from teenage boys to elderly men. They were seized from more than forty countries around the world: some from Afghanistan, others from places as far flung as Bosnia and the Gambia. Many had wives and children. And the prisoners had some other things in common. They were all detained for years without charges, without trial, and without a fair hearing. They were all denied any legal status or protection because President...

  4. Prelude
    (pp. 7-12)

    That’s what I was wondering one hot day last July when I walked across a prison yard so silent and sterile as to be a little eerie. Nothing grew in the yard: no grass or flower or tree or even weed. We approached a hut. Inside was a man chained to the floor. His name was Adel. My firm had filed a habeas case for him the previous March, but I’d never seen him or spoken to him before. Was he a terrorist? One of the worst of the worst?

    Three weeks before I got to Guantánamo, Vice President Cheney...

  5. 1 Representing the “Worst of the Worst”
    (pp. 13-28)

    On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in a conference room at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City waiting to examine an expert witness in a $40 million reinsurance arbitration. Instead, we watched the Twin Towers collapse on TV, knowing that as people jumped to their death on the small screen, they were jumping to their death in real life just a few miles down Broadway.

    That afternoon I walked out to the quiet streets of midtown Manhattan. Streets were devoid of traffic and sparsely littered with people in panic and disbelief. Everyone was speaking in quiet...

  6. 2 Getting behind the Wire
    (pp. 29-54)

    In 2002, after we were retained by the families in Kuwait concerned about their disappeared children, we sought information from the U.S. government. My colleague Neil Koslowe, a longtime DOJ lawyer, sought to get some information from his former employer and colleagues. Years of service in the DOJ, however, apparently were not enough to get anything other than unreturned phone messages or a change in the conversation. Neil was told that the Bush administration and the Department of Defense (DOD) were handling “it”; he was told we should leave “it” alone. Neil also inquired into making Freedom of Information Act...

  7. 3 Uncovering Guantánamo’s Human Face
    (pp. 55-108)

    You see your client seated behind a table, one leg shackled to the floor. He is young, bearded, swarthy, and does not speak or understand more than a few words of English. If you haven’t met before—and often even if you have—he suspects that you and your interpreter are secret agents for the U.S. government who have come to pry information from him. After repeated assurances that you are there to help him, you discuss the state of the legal and political efforts under way to have him and the other prisoners returned home. There is a problem...

  8. 4 Red Tape and Kangaroo Courts
    (pp. 109-228)

    One early challenge in the habeas litigation was negotiating a protective order with the U.S. government. The order governs our handling of classified information and “protected” information (certain unclassified information too sensitive to be made public) and establishes procedures for visiting and communicating with clients. Early on, the two sides submitted to District Judge Joyce Hens Green, who was then coordinating the cases, a proposed protective order that reflected points of agreement, accompanied by a report setting out three significant points of disagreement: the number of “secure facilities” where classified information would be kept, information sharing among habeas counsel, and...

  9. 5 Tortured
    (pp. 229-288)

    The following is the second portion of a letter written by my client Tawfiq. It appears in its original form.

    After we reached Afghanistan, they threw us into a vehicle; they threw us the way somebody would throw trash in a truck. Then they took us to a prison in Kabul area called Wazir Akbar Khan. It was underground and we were interrogated as soon as we reached there. It was done in a very savage manner. Then they put us in a very small cell, there was no bed in the cell. We were unable to breathe and sleep,...

  10. 6 Alternative Forms of Advocacy
    (pp. 289-312)

    Nouakchott is the capital of Mauritania, a large but mostly unpopulated Islamic republic of about three million people on the western side of Africa, next to Morocco. The largest city in the Sahara, Nouakchott spreads for miles across a large swatch of brilliant orange desert near the Atlantic Ocean. The people there speak both Arabic and French. Mauritania is a very poor country with an average income under $400 a year. Despite bans, it is reported that slavery is still practiced. There is still a castelike system, with black Africans on the bottom rung. Eight hundred thousand people live in...

  11. 7 Leaving Guantánamo
    (pp. 313-360)

    In spring 2007, I got a notice that the military had cleared my clients Arkin and Bahtiyar (and the other Uighurs) for release but that it still considered them “enemy combatants.” Try finding asylum for enemy combatants. The U.S. government has acknowledged that they will be in danger of torture or death if they are sent back to China. However, every country that has been approached diplomatically has been unwilling to help the United States solve the Uighur problem at the risk of jeopardizing their relations with the Chinese government. So I, and other Uighur counsel, continue to work on...

  12. 8 Guantánamo beyond Cuba: A Global Detention System outside the Law
    (pp. 361-398)

    In May 2002, when it seemed that the smell of the debris and smoke from the demise of the Twin Towers had just cleared, I received a call from the courtroom deputy to the Honorable Michael B. Mukasey, then chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. He asked me to appear in court the following week for an assignment representing a grand-jury material witness who was being held in connection with the grand-jury sitting to investigate 9/11. As in my practice, I came intending to argue for my client’s release pending搎his appearance before...

  13. Coda
    (pp. 399-404)

    It was the part of the afternoon that pops the thermometers in Guantánamo from “Sweltering” to “Broiling,” yet that hardly seemed to faze the female soldier jogging past our van.

    “Around here, we call it the ‘2-9-2,’” yelled our escort from the front, struggling to be heard over the noise of the van willing itself up the steep road to the prison camps.

    “What’s that?”

    “Girls who are 2s on the mainland are 9s here but go back home and are 2s again.”

    “Fascinating.” Scrub and cacti sloped down in all directions. Off in the distance, the blades of three...

  14. Timeline: Guantánamo and the “War on Terror”
    (pp. 405-412)
    Adam Deutsch
  15. Contributors
    (pp. 413-420)