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H. Candace Gorman

H. Candace Gorman is a civil rights/human rights lawyer in Chicago who is representing two Guantánamo detainees.

December 20th, 2006 1:49 AM

'Ask Me About Guantánamo' ...by H. Candace Gorman

I guess you can call me a flip flopper.   First I thought Congress had dealt my client, Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, the final blow in September with the passage of the Military Commissions Act. This insidious law does away with habeas corpus rights for Guantánamo detainees, (not to mention non U.S. Citizens and any U.S. citizen that the president determines is an “enemy combatant”). Then I thought the final blow was that I could not get Mr. Al-Ghizzawi's medical records for an independent review of his medical treatment (or lack thereof) at Guantánamo. But then last week the first lawsuit was thrown out of court because of the Military Commissions Act and I know the real death knell for Mr. Al-Ghizzawi is losing habeas corpus. You see, I wouldn't need Mr. Al-Ghizzawi's medical records if I could have a quick and fair habeas hearing, because my client would be set free and could get medical attention on his own.

Mr. Al-Ghizzawi is one of the hundreds of men being held at Guantánamo who was turned over to the American military in exchange for a bounty. I have been representing him now for just over a year.   I am not from a big law firm; I am a civil rights attorney with almost 25 years experience. Working with me is one young associate, a law clerk and a para-legal. I pay for everything involved in this representation out of my own pocket and the reason I am doing this is because my government, our government, has turned its back on the rule of law and I could not turn a blind eye. My involvement started as a personal statement because I was unwilling to sit on the sidelines while our rule of law was under attack. I believe that each of us has the capacity to change things in our own realm if we focus and take charge.   My realm happens to be the legal arena. I started out with the simple task of wanting to do my part to make sure there were open and honest habeas hearings. I didn't know anything about Mr. Al-Ghizzawi when I signed on to represent a detainee.   In fact, in the back of my mind I assumed that whatever client I represented would probably be guilty.   I was ok with that; if an individual is guilty they should be punished.   If they are innocent they should be released. I just wanted to make sure that the rule of law was followed.

As I later learned, Mr. Al-Ghizzawi is innocent and his story is typical in that, like the majority of prisoners at Guantánamo, he was not captured “on the battlefield” by U.S. forces. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi (like other Arabs in Afghanistan) was seized by armed men after the United States dropped thousands of leaflets over that war-ravaged country promising huge bounties for captured “terrorists” and “murderers.” Mr. Al-Ghizzawi was then turned over to the Northern Alliance, who in turn handed him over to the Americans. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi has been held now for over five years without any charges being filed against him. The awful truth is that our government has known for years that Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, and the vast majority of the detainees, have no ties to terrorism.

It is bad enough to be languishing at Guantánamo, but Mr. Al-Ghizzawi has become increasingly sick over the years of his imprisonment and the military has ignored his deteriorating health. As you can imagine, Mr. Al-Ghizzawi has been very concerned about what is wrong with him. He pleaded for an attorney by sending messages through other detainees that were already represented by counsel.   He knew that the only way he was going to get medical help was if he had someone advocating for him. Although he didn't know exactly what was wrong with his health, he knew that when he got married a blood test first showed positive for hepatitis B; a second test showed negative. He had no symptoms back then so he figured the first test was wrong. But sitting in Guantánamo Mr. Al-Ghizzawi became concerned that he did in fact have hepatitis when he began having severe pain in the area of his liver and his skin became noticeably jaundiced. The military gave him physicals over the years, but no one at Guantánamo would tell him what was wrong with him.   In fact, they told Mr. Al-Ghizzawi that there was nothing wrong with his health.

I asked the judge to order the military to turn over Mr. Al-Ghizzawi's medical records to me.   The judge refused because he said I could not show what “irreparable harm” would befall Mr. Al-Ghizzawi in not getting the records. (Even Joseph Heller would have cringed at this one!) Of course the judge is correct; I cannot show irreparable harm in not getting the records because I cannot show irreparable harm until I have the records …. In fact, I cannot show anything without the records because all I have is the testimony of a detainee and observations made by me, his lawyer, (neither of which are given any credibility by some members of the judiciary). This outrageous decision by the judge is made even crueler by the fact that the government finally admitted in legal papers that Mr. Al-Ghizzawi does have hepatitis B and that he also has tuberculosis. The Government also admitted Mr. Al-Ghizzawi has not been treated for either condition. I had the unfortunate job of informing Mr. Al-Ghizzawi of both these illnesses (and the fact that the military has known about the hepatitis B since his first physical in the spring of 2002). Mr. Al-Ghizzawi calmly asked me why he has not been treated for these conditions and I could only tell him what the government told the judge “they said you did not want to be treated.” Mr. Al-Ghizzawi just shook his head in disbelief and quietly said “Guantánamo, it is a graveyard for human rights.”

So what does a lawyer do when the rule of law is abandoned and the courts don't do their job? Maybe in the long run it won't matter which of the blows is Mr. Al-Ghizzawi's final blow but this is no longer a personal statement for me, getting Mr. Al-Ghizzawi out of there alive is my duty: as a lawyer and as a human being. So when I am not filing court papers and taking the long trip down to the base, I try to bring to the attention of anybody that will listen the injustices that are occurring in our name under the guise of, I guess this week it is called “national security.” Mostly I have been writing and giving speeches. Last week, in honor of International Human Rights Day, I wore an orange jumpsuit to work that is worn by some of the Guantánamo detainees. This idea was inspired by an email I received from “The World Can't Wait.” I dressed the jumpsuit up with a belt and turtleneck. (I don't know why, maybe I was thinking it would be more lawyer like….)

The reason I wore the jumpsuit was that I hoped people would stop and ask me about it. However it didn't happen quite that way. As you might imagine people that know me were forced to listen to my explanation, but the “masses” were keeping their distance. Most people turned their heads or averted their eyes when they saw me coming. Some crossed to the other side of the street.   It might have had something to do with the headache orange color… or maybe the fact that there is a federal metropolitan correctional center a few short blocks from my office. Anyway, I am thinking next time I will sport a giant button that says “ ask me about Guantánamo. ”

H. Candace Gorman is a civil rights attorney in Chicago. Visit her blog at http://gtmoblog.blogspot.com/

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