Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Lawyer's Journey to Guantánamo

An excellent column by Michael Rapkin appeared in the February 5th issue of the L.A. Daily Journal. Rapkin's client, Yousef Abdullah Al-Rubaish, is a young Saudi who, like so many others, was regularly abused during his unjust imprisonment at Guantánamo Bay. Rapkin does an excellent job at addressing the facts and fictions surrounding the camp and its inmates:

With unclassified government records, I can refute much of the misinformation disseminated by the Bush administration and the military.

For example, American forces captured only 5 percent of the Guantanamo detainees. Only 8 percent of the detainees are deemed to be al-Qaida fighters. Fifty-five percent never committed a hostile act against the United States or its coalition allies; and 85 percent were captured by bounty hunters who were paid money (according to American leaflets) "beyond their wildest dreams."

And these are the government's own records.

Yousef, like most Guantanamo prisoners, was physically and psychologically tortured by our American military - as publicly documented by the FBI and other organizations. He was beaten before meals by guards with batons and helmets wearing metal knee braces and metal gloves, who would forcibly remove him from his cell. They broke bones and forced Yousef into physically stressful positions. They smashed him in the eye while praying and provided sub-standard
medical care. Other Gitmo prisoners sustained worse torture conditions than Yousef.

The torture continues today in Guantanamo. Prisoners suffer prolonged isolation in solitary confinement, exposure to the elements and constant sleep deprivation. One prisoner recently had his daily allotment of 15 sheets of toilet paper confiscated because he used some to cover his eyes in order to sleep.

During his five years in Guantanamo, Yousef never saw his family. I was his only contact with the outside world. When I brought him family pictures his family had sent to me, he could not stop staring at them.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have described the Guantanamo prisoners as the "worst of the worst," but we all know the truth. The government knows most of the prisoners are innocent; only 10 out
of more than 800 have ever been charged. And even those 10 have never had a day in court.

Rapkin also takes on the nefarious Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the Bush administration's assault on habeas corpus.

Late last year, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006. This un-American legislation applies to all non-U.S. citizens or residents, as well as to the Guantanamo detainees. If the president designates someone an "unlawful enemy combatant," he or she loses habeas corpus rights, the single most critical safeguard of individual liberty in our legal system. They lose the right to due process under the law. They lose the right to be told why they have been imprisoned or even what they are accused of having done. They can be held indefinitely in prison for the rest of their lives, with no trial.

The good news is that Yousef was released from Guantanamo last month and has flown home to Saudi Arabia. Like other Saudis who have been transferred from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia, Yousef is being held temporarily in a Saudi jail, but he is being treated well. Based on past Saudi policy, Yousef expects to be released soon to resume his life. And even though the Bush administration ripped five years from the prime of his life and thus far refuses him any compensation, Yousef does not harbor ill feelings towards the United States.

Today, hundreds of prisoners still remain at Guantanamo. Conditions have not improved. There is no due process and currently no habeas rights under the Military Commissions Act. (I protested in front of the White House the day the president signed this legislation). Some detainees are in the new $37 million dollar state-of the-art prison facility known as Camp 6, designed to reduce contact among inmates. The new Congress will be considering two bills which would modify the Military Commissions Act and, among other revisions, restore the centuries old habeas corpus law.

- Adrian Bleifuss Prados

Hat tip to G. Munson for technical support with this post.