Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Candace Speaks to the Campus

Last Thursday, while Candace was meeting with her clients in Guantánamo, students at Columbia College Chicago protested the Bush administration's foreign policy in Iraq and beyond. Candace sent this written statement of support for the students:

Greetings from Guantánamo.

As you are sitting here today I am spending the day in a tiny room with one of my two clients. Depending on which client I am visiting today I will either be soaking wet from the intense heat or freezing cold from the air conditioning turned on high. Tomorrow I will leave this hellhole but my unfortunate clients will remain. It is on behalf of my two clients, and the other inmates languishing at Guantánamo without any charges filed against them and no end in sight, that I would like to thank you for taking a stand today against the illegal and immoral policies of the Bush administration.

If I am meeting with Mr. Al-Ghizzawi today I can tell you a lot about the man that was wrongly picked up for a bounty… and I will tell you a little about him in a minute. However, if I am meeting with Mr. Razak Ali, I can tell you next to nothing about the man…. And here is why… I agreed to represent Mr. Ali in the spring, after I was already representing Mr. Al-Ghizzawi for almost six months… I figured what the hell; I am already going down to Guantánamo so why not see two clients instead of one….

However, the government has fought giving me any information about Mr. Ali…They did the same with my other client but eventually Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s judge ordered the government to give me whatever information that had on Mr. Al-Ghizzawi. Unfortunately the Judge in Mr. Ali’s case has not entered a similar order. Last week I filed an emergency motion with the Appellate court asking them to allow me to see information about Mr. Ali before my trip this week, but on Friday at 4:00 the court finally answered…. They said they will get to my request some other time. So I went again to visit my client not having a clue as to what our government thinks he has done…

But let me tell you briefly about my other client Mr. Al-Ghizzawi. There was a good reason why the government fought giving me any information about him. You see Mr. Al-Ghizzawi was picked up in return for a bounty after we dropped thousands upon thousands of leaflets over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and who knows where else. Our government promised people that we would give them wealth beyond their dreams if they turned over murderers and terrorists… Mr. Al-Ghizzawi was a Libyan living in Afghanistan. He had a small shop and was married to an Afghani woman with a new-born daughter at the time the US started bombing Afghanistan. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi took his wife and young daughter out of the city and to his in-laws to avoid the bombing. It was there at the home of his in-laws that he was turned over for the bounty, the family had no choice when the thugs came to the door. Being a stranger and an Arab was enough for someone to turn Mr. Al-Ghizzawi over and become “wealthier beyond (their) dreams.”

Our own government did not know anything about Mr. Al-Ghizzawi when he was turned over to them.. Eventually more than three years after he was picked up and sent to Guantánamo they did a review of him before a panel of three military people. A review that was stacked against Mr. Al-Ghizzawi by the procedures set up for the prisoners. However even that military panel, in the procedure that was stacked against him determined that Mr. Al-Ghizzawi was not an enemy combatant and that there was no evidence tying him to al-Qaeda, the Taliban or any other terrorist organization. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s capture was a mistake, like so many other “mistakes” at Guantánamo.

The first time I met Al-Ghizzawi, in July of last year, Mr. Al-Ghizzawi had already been at Guantánamo more than four years. The first part of his detention was spent in a cage with a strip of concrete around the sand floor. It was open to the elements: be it sun, rain, cold, or the occasional hurricane. The hovel erected by our government to house human beings looked like the animal shelter where we picked out a dog some years back, only our dog had a little covered corner where she could get away from the weather.

Mr. Al-Ghizzawi and the other men were eventually “upgraded” to the facilities that he was living in until this past December. They had walls, a roof, barred windows. and concrete floors. He has no blanket (blankets are not allowed). Instead he has a plastic “thing” to cover himself with. This plastic “thing” is cold when it is cold and hot when it is hot. It is never washed and it stinks.
Mr. Al-Ghizzawi has been held more than five years now. His health is rapidly deteriorating from the effects of untreated hepatitis B and tuberculosis (our government admits that it has known about both of these conditions since he arrived but has not treated him for either condition). His daughter, who was just a few months old when he was turned in for a bounty and whisked off to Guantánamo, will turn six soon. His wife and daughter live on the kindness of family. The bread and spice shop owned and operated by Mr. Al-Ghizzawi and his wife has been long since closed down (she cannot run the shop without him). Our courts and politicians have forsaken Mr. Al-Ghizzawi. The diplomats look the other way. Countries that understand just how awful the US has become refuse to take Guantánamo refugees, not because they are afraid the men are terrorists, but because they don’t want to be seen doing anything to help the US out of this awful mess we made for ourselves. Time will not look favorably to anything our country has done to the men of Guantánamo, but that is a bitter-sweet pill for the men we have caused and continue to cause, to suffer so greatly.

In December Mr. Al-Ghizzawi and approximately 200 others were moved into the new camp 6. Camp 6 is solitary confinement, total isolation. Being placed there has nothing to do with the prisoners’ status or threat level. Many of the individuals placed in camp 6 are scheduled to be released… but now they sit in solitary confinement, in a building that is brutally cold. They have no one to talk to, they have no fresh air, they never see the sun or the sky… and they are slowly going crazy.

When Mr. Al-Ghizzawi was explaining to me his early years at Guantánamo, he told me about a flower that had appeared outside his “cage” in the spring of 2002. Just one little flower poking its beautiful leaves and petals out of the sand. He was describing the flower to me, but I couldn’t quite figure out what kind of flower it was. He called it a primrose and maybe it was. He said to me “I am like that little flower. It didn’t belong there…. I don’t belong here either.”
I ask each of you to do everything in your power to close this place. It means writing to congress and to newspapers. Getting a petition drive. Keeping this disgrace front and center for the American people to see and think about. Bush will not close this place until he is forced to…. We must force him.

On behalf of Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, Mr. Ali, and the other prisoners at Guantánamo, I thank you in advance for whatever help and attention you can bring to their plight.