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Inside a Prison Outside the Law

edited by Mark P. Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8147-3736-1
Publisher: New York Univ.

First-person accounts by the attorneys representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

Following the U.S. response to the attacks of 9/11, the Bush administration chose the naval base at Guantánamo to house the “worst of the worst” prisoners, as Donald Rumsfeld put it. (See Karen Greenberg’s recent The Least Worst Place for an account of the detention regime’s early history.) There, more than 750 men remained for years, their identities kept secret, without legal status, charges or trial. From the detention of these so-called “enemy combatants” arose Rasul v. Bush, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and Boumediene v. Bush, three landmark Supreme Court cases stating that the prisoners had a “right to challenge their detention through habeas corpus.” Denbeaux (Law/Seton Hall Univ.) and ACLU lawyer Hafetz gather statements, anecdotes and reminiscences from the volunteer lawyers who took on this unpopular cause. The material is divided into a number of parts: how the lawyers first got involved and made their way to the island; the conditions they encountered as they met with their clients; the mistreatment (either observed or reported) of the detainees; the legal battles they fought and the alternative forms of advocacy they adopted—lobbying Congress, speaking before community groups, writing for the press—to expose the prisoners’ plight; the eventual release of some detainees; and the replication of Guantánamo’s conditions at various “black sites” around the globe. Most interesting are the special problems faced by female attorneys representing Muslim clients, the numerous tales of willful obstruction and absurd red tape imposed by the government and the military and the background stories of some of the detainees. Some readers will be put off the frequently self-congratulatory tone of the attorneys, their almost unanimous claims of their clients’ innocence, their seeming obliviousness to the difficult legal questions the terror war poses and their condescension, even occasionally to the detainees. Others will see them as they see themselves: heroes protecting the U.S. Constitution.

A valuable contribution to the record of an unfinished story bound to reverberate for years to come.