Rene — Kangaroo Tribunals Give a Kafkaesque Edge to Guantanamo

Topic(s): Guantanamo Bay | Comments Off on Rene — Kangaroo Tribunals Give a Kafkaesque Edge to Guantanamo

Kangaroo Tribunals Give a Kafkaesque Edge to Guantanamo
Sunday, April 15, 2007 by The San Francisco Chronicle
by H. Candace Gorman
The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay ‘ or Azkaban, as one of my clients, a
Harry Potter fan, calls it ‘ have had no access to a hearing in a court
of law. Instead, Guantanamo’s inmates are subjected to two kangaroo
procedures: Combatant Status Review Tribunals and Administrative Review
The tribunals determine whether an individual is an enemy combatant.
Needless to say, the cards are stacked against the prisoner from the
get-go. The tribunals are allowed to rely on hearsay evidence and
information acquired though coercion. Any evidence deemed `secret’ is
withheld from the prisoner. Can you imagine trying to defend yourself
against evidence kept secret from you?
Amazingly, my client Abdul Al-Ghizzawi (a Libyan who ran a bakery in
Jalalabad, Afghanistan, before being handed to Americans for a bounty
in late 2001), was found to have no ties to terrorism and not to be an
enemy combatant. Unfortunately, the higher-ups intervened and the
tribunal’s judgment was overturned six weeks later upon the miraculous
discovery of `new evidence.’ I saw the classified proceedings of my
client’s tribunals, and I can assure you that no new material was
considered. Mark and Joshua Denbeaux, authors of the study `No-Hearing
Hearings,’ have discovered that some prisoners went through as many as
three hearings before the tribunals made the `correct’ determination
that a prisoner had ties to terrorism.
The second procedure in this Kafkaesque process, the administrative
review board, is an annual (and usually meaningless) ritual in which
the military assesses an enemy combatant’s status. In several
now-infamous cases, the board darkly noted that the prisoner owned a
Casio wristwatch (which could conceivably be used to time explosives).
At one such hearing, the prisoner in question noted that American
military personnel also wear Casio watches and sardonically asked if
they too were terrorists. Similarly, karate skills, knowledge of
computers and participation in the pilgrimage to Mecca have also been
considered factors supporting `continuing detention.’ When the review
board recommends the release of an individual, there is never an
apology or an acknowledgment that a mistake has been made. In order to
save face (and thwart possible lawsuits), the U.S. government insists
that a release `does not equate to innocence.’
Last year I was invited to submit a letter on behalf of Al-Ghizzawi to
the review board. The government did everything possible to prevent me
from meeting and communicating with my client and yet, in a phony
gesture, they invited me to represent this man who at the time I had
never met.
I have now met with Al-Ghizzawi several times, and I know him to be
heartsick for his family, physically ill and completely innocent. I
will make the details of his capture by bounty hunters and his
appalling treatment by negligent U.S. officials clear to the review
board. Still, I know the procedure is meaningless. In February, the
government informed lawyers that some Guantanamo prisoners have been
eligible for release for two years, but have been held back by
bureaucratic and diplomatic impasses.
I am also expected to make a review board submission for my second
client, Razak Ali, a 36-year-old Algerian, and I find myself in the
same place I was last year with Al-Ghizzawi. I know virtually nothing
about him because the government has fought to prevent me from
receiving any paperwork regarding his detention. The court finally
allowed me to meet with Ali in November and have him sign a
representation form (making me officially his lawyer). I decided
against talking to my client about his detention and I kept our
conversation light. We spent a long time discussing the Harry Potter
books, his favorite books in the Guantanamo library.
Ali sees parallels between George W. Bush and J.K. Rowling’s
arch-villain, Voldemort. Guantanamo is the real-world equivalent of
Azkaban, the cheerless prison guarded by the soulless Dementors.
It seems almost natural that fact and fantasy collide in Guantanamo,
the prison camp dreamed up by the Bush administration lawyers. Checks
and balances, constitutional protections and long-standing legal
traditions all dissolve before their fanciful `unitary executive
I submitted my response for Ali on Feb. 23, and I did not mention his
comparison of Bush to Voldemort. The government would probably conclude
that it only proved he was an enemy of the state. Instead, I asked a
basic question: `How can I be expected to make a submission regarding
Ali when the government refuses to provide any information about the
reasons for his detention?’ I don’t expect an answer.
H. Candace Gorman is a civil rights attorney in Chicago. This piece
appeared in ‘ In These Times.’ Contact us at insight@sfchronicle.com.