Detainees Deserve Court Trials
By P. Sabin Willett
Monday, November 14,
2005; Page A21
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.
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
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 corpus.
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.
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 enough.
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
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
has never doubted the judgment at Nuremberg. But no one will trust the work of these secret
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.
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.