Detainees Deserve Court Trials
By P. Sabin Willett
Washington Post" -- -- As the Senate prepared to vote
Thursday to abolish the writ of habeas corpus, Sens. Lindsey Graham
and Jon Kyl were railing about lawyers like me. Filing lawsuits on
behalf of the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Terrorists! Kyl must
have said the word 30 times.
As I listened, I wished the senators could meet my client Adel.
Adel is innocent. I don't mean he claims to be. I mean the military
says so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled that he is not al
Qaeda, not Taliban, not a terrorist. The whole thing was a mistake:
The Pentagon paid $5,000 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken.
The military people reached this conclusion, and they wrote it down
on a memo, and then they classified the memo and Adel went from the
hearing room back to his prison cell. He is a prisoner today, eight
months later. And these facts would still be a secret but for one
thing: habeas corpus.
Only habeas corpus got Adel a chance to tell a federal judge what
had happened. Only habeas corpus revealed that it wasn't just Adel
who was innocent -- it was Abu Bakker and Ahmet and Ayoub and
Zakerjain and Sadiq -- all Guantanamo "terrorists" whom the military
has found innocent.
Habeas corpus is older than even our Constitution. It is the right
to compel the executive to justify itself when it imprisons people.
But the Senate voted to abolish it for Adel, in favor of the same
"combatant status review tribunal" that has already exonerated him.
That secret tribunal didn't have much impact on his life, but Graham
says it is good enough.
Adel lives in a small fenced compound 8,000 miles from his home and
family. The Defense Department says it is trying to arrange for a
country to take him -- some country other than his native communist
China, where Muslims like Adel are routinely tortured. It has been
saying this for more than two years. But the rest of the world is
not rushing to aid the Bush administration, and meanwhile Adel is
about to pass his fourth anniversary in a U.S. prison.
He has no visitors save his lawyers. He has no news in his native
language, Uighur. He cannot speak to his wife, his children, his
parents. When I first met him on July 15, in a grim place they call
Camp Echo, his leg was chained to the floor. I brought photographs
of his children to another visit, but I had to take them away again.
They were "contraband," and he was forbidden to receive them from
In a wiser past, we tried Nazi war criminals in the sunlight.
Summing up for the prosecution at Nuremberg, Robert Jackson said
that "the future will never have to ask, with misgiving: 'What could
the Nazis have said in their favor?' History will know that whatever
could be said, they were allowed to say. . . . The extraordinary
fairness of these hearings is an attribute of our strength."
The world has never doubted the judgment at Nuremberg. But no one
will trust the work of these secret tribunals.
Mistakes are made: There will always be Adels. That's where courts
come in. They are slow, but they are not beholden to the defense
secretary, and in the end they get it right. They know the good guys
from the bad guys. Take away the courts and everyone's a bad guy.
The secretary of defense chained Adel, took him to Cuba, imprisoned
him and sends teams of lawyers to fight any effort to get his case
heard. Now the Senate has voted to lock down his only hope, the
courts, and to throw away the key forever. Before they do this, I
have a last request on his behalf. I make it to the 49 senators who
voted for this amendment.
I'm back in Cuba today, maybe for the last time. Come down and join
me. Sen. Graham, Sen. Kyl -- come meet the sleepy-eyed young man
with the shy smile and the gentle manner. Afterward, as you look up
at the bright stars over Cuba, remembering what you've seen in Camp
Echo, see whether the word "terrorist" comes quite so readily to
your lips. See whether the urge to abolish judicial review rests
easy on your mind, or whether your heart begins to ache, as mine
does, for the country I thought I knew.
The writer is one of a number of lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay
prisoners on a pro bono basis.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
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