(For the Francophones in the audience clip on the title for the original version)
An American Lawyer's Fight Against Guantanamo Goes Through Switzerland
By Luis Lema Le Temps
Wednesday 19 December 2007
A seriously ill detainee is denied medical care by the Americans. Berne is solicited.
Candace Gorman spent last weekend at Guantanamo. She no longer counts the number of times she's gone to the American detention center, "maybe eight or nine." A Chicago lawyer for twenty-five years, she has, as she says herself, "largely given up her practice" to conduct a battle against her government the last several years. As a volunteer, she receives neither pay nor expense reimbursement of any kind. She wants, she repeats, to "remedy the injustice" to which one of the Guantanamo detainees is victim.
Her client's name is Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi. He was thirty-nine years old when he was captured in Afghanistan in 2001. His crime? Being Libyan in the wrong place at the wrong time. When he was captured, his lawyer reminds us, the Americans were inundating the country with tracts calling for Arab "terrorists and criminals" to be handed over. They promised astronomical bounties, enough to "feed your family and your village for the rest of your life." Married to an Afghan woman, al-Ghizzawi owned a little grocery store in Jalalabad. He was arrested by the Northern Alliance, put in a truck, sold to the Americans, and then transferred to Guantanamo.
Candace Gorman is convinced that the man is entirely innocent. Placed under a regime of exceptional justice, he does not enjoy the usual rights and recourse of defense. However, at the end of 2004, the members of a military tribunal agreed to acknowledge that the Libyan, like 45 other Guantanamo detainees, could not be described as an "enemy combatant." Some weeks later, however, other hearings were organized and those decisions were annulled. The lawyer, who has transcripts of those hearings, is persuaded that the about-face has one rationale only: the military was embarrassed to have so many detainees on its hands whose innocence had been acknowledged. The rules of the game were changed.
The Harshest Unit
Instead of being freed, Al-Ghizzawi was, quite the opposite, transferred to Camp 6, the harshest unit at Guantanamo. When his lawyer visited him for the first time a year ago, she found her client chained to the floor, kept in virtually complete isolation in a steel cell with no windows. She very quickly realized that the man was seriously ill. The camp doctors confirmed that he was infected with chronic Hepatitis B, and perhaps tuberculosis also. They declared that the detainee refused medical care. But they rejected his lawyer's demand for medical management and supervision.
"I knew the military would never allow him to be cared for in the United States. So I tried abroad," Candace Gorman explains. Through a chain of circumstances, she came upon the name of JŸrg Reichen, liver specialist at the Berne hospital. She went to meet him in Switzerland. And the doctor filed a statement with an American district court and then with the Supreme Court. "I tried unsuccessfully to obtain a diagnosis," JŸrg Reichen confirmed over the phone. "And I alerted my 'colleagues' at Guantanamo as to what they should do with a proven case of hepatitis B."
The Swiss doctor has already gathered the funds necessary to care for Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi at the Berne Hospital. A proceeding, he insists on making clear, that "will not cost Swiss taxpayers a penny." The lawyer has addressed the [Swiss] Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. But the FDFA says it is unable to intervene as long as the Bush administration does not present a request for admission to Switzerland to receive medical care. Now, according to the lawyer, "it's clear that the United States will never make an official request. That would amount to admitting its own policy failures."
"A Dead Man" If ...
Yet there's no time to waste. A few days ago, 12 Guantanamo detainees were sent to Pulcharkey prison in Kabul, for which the Americans have just finished building a new wing. The authorities' wager: to bet on the fact that the detainees will escape American jurisdiction there and will not be able to be defended by their lawyers. "It's Guantanamo's Guantanamo," Candace Gorman sums up. And her contacts in Washington have assured her that her client's name is on the list of those who will be sent next to that high security prison which has no medical services. Specialist JŸrg Reichen's opinion allows no appeal: If Al-Ghizzawi is sent to Afghanistan, he's a dead man."