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Welcome to the Guantánamo Lawyers digital archive

This site collects the narratives of lawyers who represented detainees at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Center. All users can download and view the documents as PDFs. Users who register (see "create new account" at the top left of this page) can post comments and discuss the documents.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States imprisoned more than seven hundred and fifty men at its naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. These men, who came from over forty different countries, were detained without charges, trial, or a fair hearing. Denied any legal status or protection, they were truly outside the law: imprisoned in secret, denied communication with their families, and subjected to extreme isolation, physical and mental abuse, and, in some instances, torture.

These are the detainees’ stories, told by their lawyers because the prisoners themselves were silenced. It took habeas counsel more than two years—and a ruling from the United States Supreme Court—to gain the right to visit and talk to their clients at Guantánamo. Even then, lawyers were forced to operate under severe restrictions designed to inhibit communication and envelop the prison in secrecy. In time, however, lawyers were able to meet with their clients and help bring the truth about Guantánamo to the world.

Mark Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz—themselves lawyers for detainees—collected stories that describe the experience of those confined at Guantánamo and the litigation it sparked.

The full text of the lawyers' narratives are freely available here for research, teaching, and non-commercial uses, and will be preserved as a historical record of these events.

Denbeaux and Hafetz have edited a book based on many of these narratives, The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law, available from NYU Press.

Check out The Guantánamo Lawyers blog about the book and the issues surrounding the Guantánamo detentions. We encourage readers to visit it and join in the conversation.

Mark Denbeaux is a professor at Seton Hall Law School, where he also directs the Center for Policy and Research.

Jonathan Hafetz is an attorney with the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and has litigated numerous post-9/11 detention cases.

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Seton Hall Law School
Michelle Fish
Brie Hughes

The Law and a Criminal Government of Murderers

I have followed events as to now three wars run by this U.S. government, let alone those of my entire lifetime having been born in 1934.

The underlying theme of those wars is common, not just to those wars, but to all wars and colonial occupations starting with the first imperialist power stemming from capitalist economics, i.e., Great Britain.

I well understand, knowing the general practice of the law firms from which many of these attorney narrators come that my words above and as will follow may well raise resistance and hostility. Nonetheless what I will say will be well founded in the conceptions of law that drove our forefathers to write our constitution, conceptions that were absolutely hostile to regimes that asserted they were the absolute authority as the representatives of god, i.e., that their declarations and deeds were god given rights.

That having been said it is clear to me that all of the hard work done in behalf of those criminally detained at Guantanamo and other places falls short in one central regard. It falls short because it attempts to obtain justice within a legal system that ultimately serves the interests of subjecting to the most draconian measures all those, guilty of the acts of which they are accused and those not guilty but accused simply for someone to collect a bounty.

There is one simple conclusion that covers all, the guilty as well as the not guilty and that conclusion is that even those who have committed acts resulting in massive casualties, even here in the United States are guilty of only one thing which is not a crime under the law, and that is bad tactics for it allows this government to narrow our common freedoms thus making it harder to build an effective opposition.

It is my assertion that even Khalid Mohhamad, whom it is said has admitted to planning and guiding the attack on the towers in New York is not guilty in that his act can clearly be shown to be one of necessity, necessity of mounting a defense against the worst of all history's rapacious international marauders from the Crusades in Christianities name to the imperialist assaults in the interest of oil and other natural resources, labor being one of those, all that again allegedly in the name of Christianity, and oh yes, a state for Zionism.

I know it is necessary with this audience to explain that contention. In order to do that I point to the history of this country and slavery.

I know that when the towers were brought down there was a wave of elation among some, especially Black folk, those same Black folk who are demanding reparations for slavery on the basis that even today all white folks are guilty of the acts and consequent damage done them.

Indeed, I have listened to that assertion for many years but unlike most white folk never felt a need to defend myself against it. Without fully understanding I simply stored it.

The fall of the towers brought those assertions about common white guilt out of storage.

There can be no doubt that I as a white person have benefited, no matter how indirectly, from slavery and the continued discrimination and violence accorded Black folks. Nonetheless, although not a racist or chauvinist of any kind, to the extent that I have failed to actively fight racism, to that extent I am guilty of the crimes of racism. That might also be said of the crimes committed against the aboriginal peoples whose land we stole and live on.

My point is that the attack on the towers was a defensive act against U.S. imperialism and its crimes over many years. I don't need to justify that assertion, Marine Corp General Smedly Butler and others long ago did that and continue to do that. Witness the acts of Bradley Manning now being tortured for exposing imperialism's crimes by exposing their documents proving those crimes.

It is true that the people who died in the towers, outside of the dealers in the money market, were innocent. But it is also true to the extent that they did not fight against the economic system, controlled in large part in those towers, they are guilty. To the extent that they participated in the criminal activities world-wide of this government by not opposing those activities they, as with slavery, were guilty.

The victims of the government they allowed to create those victims have every right, in defense, to visit on a population that benefits from imperialism's international rampage, to strike back in any way they can. Lacking the means of conventional warfare they brilliantly converted four fuel laden aircraft into instruments of mass destruction mot very different than the bombs this government guided into a Baghdad shelter holding women and children.

This government murdered those poor folks, and hundreds of thousands more, without any legitimate cause just as we are now setting out to do in Libya, characterizing Colonel Quadaffi as a mad-man just as we did Saddam Hussein before we lynched him.

That is the political argument.

Given that background which is irrefutable it should be clear that the main line of defense of all the Guantanamo and "war on Terrorism" prisoners should be that while some are and were innocent in that they committed no acts at all justifying their imprisonment, all are innocent, even the brilliant tactician Khalid Mohammad, by virtue of the necessity of defense against the successive criminal U.S. governments.

Some of you may violently disagree with my political argument. Nonetheless, as a matter at law, there is plentiful evidence of that arguments validity. After all, even now if you look for them, there are among us plenty of Smedly Butlers.

As defense attorneys your duty, in addition to all the constitutional and other defensive arguments, is to use the most aggressive defense of all on behalf of your clients, i.e., turn every hearing, every tribunal, every court trial, into an indictment of this murderous criminal government and therefore the acts of which your clients are accused acts of necessity.

Don't let them use the military tribunal process on Mr. Mohammad. The Constitution is stronger than the Congress insofar as where he has a right to be tried.

My bet is that a careful defense of necessity in a New York courtroom with Mr. Mohammad carefully detailing the crimes pf imperialism that drove him to planning that attack has a good chance of at least a hung jury.

I am myself a New Yorker although long gone from there. New Yorkers always see themselves put upon by government. The bringing down of the towers was a horrendous act in that it killed thousands but I believe that a carefully vetted jury hearing all the details of the historic crimes of U.S. imperialism recited by Mr. Mohammad will find sympathy as long as in that recitation empathy is mixed with necessity. All that I have read suggests that Mr. Mohammad is capable of such a performance especially insofar as it would be based in incontrovertible, historical, fact.

In general as regards all your client defendants there is another area of attack.

In international law, let alone U.S. law, especially in regard to the Nuremburg trials and the Yamashita Standard, somebody ought to be making formal accusations as to this being a government of war criminals, as was the last, and an accusation and demand for indictment made. I have no doubt individuals can be found who would be willing to step forward making such accusations and demanding prosecution.

Within the standard practice of criminal defense law you folks have won some very important, even spectacular decisions. Nonetheless it all has been on the basis of criminal defense law. That has not, in the end, gotten you very far. Yes. Some have been released.

Unfortunately now, instead of imprisoning perceived enemy "terrorists" our criminal President simply signs authority to murder them. That has to be, of all the strategies of avoiding application of law, the most spectacular evasion. He ought to be indicted, tried, and if convicted, hung.

That sort of turning defense of your clients into an indictment of this government, is what ought to be the center of your tactics going forward.

Jack Jersawitz