An unknown number of people being held in the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, facility are not actually terrorists, terrorist sympathizers, or even remotely hostile to the U.S. Instead, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But even after being cleared of wrongdoing, the U.S. continues to hold some of them indefinitely.
Consider the story of Adel, made public a few days ago.
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 corpus.
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 enough.
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. . . .
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. — P. Sabin Willett
I hear about people getting released from Gitmo all the time, completely exonerated of any wrongdoing. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and ran into a local bounty hunter who got greedy for U.S. dollars and took anyone and everyone prisoner. At $5,000 a head.
To add stupidity to injury, instead of holding these people locally, investigating quickly, and perhaps shooting the bounty hunters who cheat the system and contribute to the ruin of innocent people’s lives, the Pentagon instead ships all of these people halfway around the world and keeps them locked up for years. And then, when they’re cleared of wrongdoing, doesn’t always release them.
Don’t mistake my position: anyone who is a terrorist actively engaged in plotting or executing a terrorist attack against us should be rounded up, held, and tried.
Right now in the Senate is a so-called “compromise” proposal which some lawmakers are supporting, saying it will increase the legal options available to Guantanamo Bay prisoners. That’s not exactly true. It would increase them relative to the previous proposal — to eliminate habeas corpus entirely. But relative to where we stand now, it would close off a lot of legal options for innocent people like Adel.
Before you support something like this, you need to remember that we live in a country where all people are presumed to have certain natural, inalienable rights, whether they were born here or not. If those rights can be removed from one class of people, then they can be removed from you, too. That’s the beauty and the danger of living in the United States of America.