Deserve Court Trials*
By P. Sabin Willett
Monday, November 14, 2005; A21
As the Senate prepared to vote Thursday to abolish the writ of habeas
corpus, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyl were railing about lawyers like
me. Filing lawsuits on behalf of the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.
Terrorists! Kyl must have said the word 30 times.
As I listened, I wished the senators could meet my client Adel.
Adel is innocent. I don't mean he claims to be. I mean the military says
so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled that he is not al Qaeda, not
Taliban, not a terrorist. The whole thing was a mistake: The Pentagon
paid $5,000 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken.
The military people reached this conclusion, and they wrote it down on a
memo, and then they classified the memo and Adel went from the hearing
room back to his prison cell. He is a prisoner today, eight months
later. And these facts would still be a secret but for one thing: habeas
Only habeas corpus got Adel a chance to tell a federal judge what had
happened. Only habeas corpus revealed that it wasn't just Adel who was
innocent -- it was Abu Bakker and Ahmet and Ayoub and Zakerjain and
Sadiq -- all Guantanamo "terrorists" whom the military has found innocent.
Habeas corpus is older than even our Constitution. It is the right to
compel the executive to justify itself when it imprisons people. But the
Senate voted to abolish it for Adel, in favor of the same "combatant
status review tribunal" that has already exonerated him. That secret
tribunal didn't have much impact on his life, but Graham says it is good
Adel lives in a small fenced compound 8,000 miles from his home and
family. The Defense Department says it is trying to arrange for a
country to take him -- some country other than his native communist
China, where Muslims like Adel are routinely tortured. It has been
saying this for more than two years. But the rest of the world is not
rushing to aid the Bush administration, and meanwhile Adel is about to
pass his fourth anniversary in a U.S. prison.
He has no visitors save his lawyers. He has no news in his native
language, Uighur. He cannot speak to his wife, his children, his
parents. When I first met him on July 15, in a grim place they call Camp
Echo, his leg was chained to the floor. I brought photographs of his
children to another visit, but I had to take them away again. They were
"contraband," and he was forbidden to receive them from me.
In a wiser past, we tried Nazi war criminals in the sunlight. Summing up
for the prosecution at Nuremberg, Robert Jackson said that "the future
will never have to ask, with misgiving: 'What could the Nazis have said
in their favor?' History will know that whatever could be said, they
were allowed to say. . . . The extraordinary fairness of these hearings
is an attribute of our strength."
The world has never doubted the judgment at Nuremberg. But no one will
trust the work of these secret tribunals.
Mistakes are made: There will always be Adels. That's where courts come
in. They are slow, but they are not beholden to the defense secretary,
and in the end they get it right. They know the good guys from the bad
guys. Take away the courts and everyone's a bad guy.
The secretary of defense chained Adel, took him to Cuba, imprisoned him
and sends teams of lawyers to fight any effort to get his case heard.
Now the Senate has voted to lock down his only hope, the courts, and to
throw away the key forever. Before they do this, I have a last request
on his behalf. I make it to the 49 senators who voted for this amendment.
I'm back in Cuba today, maybe for the last time. Come down and join me.
Sen. Graham, Sen. Kyl -- come meet the sleepy-eyed young man with the
shy smile and the gentle manner. Afterward, as you look up at the bright
stars over Cuba, remembering what you've seen in Camp Echo, see whether
the word "terrorist" comes quite so readily to your lips. See whether
the urge to abolish judicial review rests easy on your mind, or whether
your heart begins to ache, as mine does, for the country I thought I knew.
/The writer is one of a number of lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay
prisoners on a pro bono basis./
© 2005 The Washington Post Company