As Barack Obama’s presidency comes to a close, lawyers who defend inmates at Guantánamo assess his broken promise to close the prison and the legacy he will leave.
Though the public knows it as a prison for the world’s most hardened terrorists, Guantánamo is and has been home to a great number of people who never had any connection to terrorism. Of the 779 men who have suffered incarceration at the base, fewer than 10 have ever been convicted of anything, and all but one of those convictions occurred in ad hoc military tribunals with arbitrary and unclear rules and standards of evidence. Dozens of the remaining prisoners were cleared for release years ago, remaining only because Yemen, their home country, is considered too dangerous to repatriate them. In this collection, edited by Hafetz (Seton Hall Law School; Habeas Corpus After 9/11, 2011, etc.), members and advocates of the Guantánamo defense bar contribute their personal reflections, many quite moving, on their cases. Sabin Willett asks, “were we always a timorous people, who ran from our Constitution at the first sign of trouble?” Several contributors invoke Kafka, as their clients inhabit an alternate universe where those found not guilty are subjected to double and triple jeopardy, hearsay is considered allowable evidence, and attorney-client communications are intercepted by the National Security Agency. Shayana Kadidal tells the story of his client, a clearly mentally ill man who was apparently imprisoned solely because he told interrogators he had once taken a taxi to Bara, a small suburb of Peshawar that they promptly confused with Tora Bora. Martha Raynor sums up the situation of anyone who finds himself in this netherworld, saying of her client, “when he will be released, who will decide it, and under what criteria is utterly unknown.”
An alarming and important indictment of Obama’s ineffectual approach to one of his signature campaign issues and of America’s tarnished system of justice as a whole.