Last week a group of Chicago law organizations presented a forum on the experiences of pro bono legal counsel working with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The forum was organized and sponsored by the Chicago Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society, the John Marshall Law School Student Chapter of ACS, the American Civil Liberty Union of Illinois and the Chicago Council of Lawyers.
The forum took its inspiration from a new book entitled The Guantanamo Lawyers: Inside of Prison Outside the Law, which features a collection of narratives from roughly 100 lawyers.
The authors of The Guantanamo Lawyers stated that as many as 86% of the detainees were “bought” prisoners. This refers to the exchange of cash that individuals received for bringing “battlefield prisoners” to the U.S., an option that was popularized by leaflets distributed in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks. However, in reality many of these “battlefield prisoners” are in fact were individuals from all walks of life who were exchanged for cash under the false premise that they were enemy combatants.
One of the participants at the forum, assistant professor at Northern Illinois University College of Law, Marc D. Falkoff said that of his 17 clients, three had been released and returned home, but that 14 remained captive at Guantanamo. Of those still released, one received a judge’s decision in a habeas corpus hearing on the merits of his claim that “he’s actually an innocent civilian who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was picked up by Pakistani security.”
Also included in the attorneys referenced in The Guantanamo Lawyers is Chicago lawyer Gary A. Isaac of Mayer, Brown, LLP. Mr. Isaac was one of several lawyers at the forum who discussed his experiences providing pro bono legal counsel to Guantanamo detainees, something that he has been doing for the last five years.
Additional experiences were shared by panelist Thomas P. Sullivan, a partner at Jenner & Block, LLP and a former U.S. attorney in Chicago, who has represented seven men held at Guantanamo. One of Mr. Sullivan’s first clients was eventually released from the detention center after having been jailed for three years. Sullivan said about 200 people are still being held at Guantanamo.
As the book describes, there were once about 750 people held at Guantanamo Bay which is now down to 200 people “and yet, of the 750 people that were there, most of them were released during the Bush Administration without explanation, compensation or apology”. The law is supposed to ensure that these types of injustices do not happen, whether at military tribunals or civilian settings, and we at Kreisman Law Offices applaud the hundreds of lawyers dedicating their time and efforts to ensuring that these detainees rights’ are preserved.
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