The Guantánamo Lawyers by Mark P. Denbeaux & Jonathan Hafetz (eds), New York: NYU Press, 2009.
The Guantánamo Lawyers is a collection of stories from more than one hundred lawyers who have been involved in some way in representing the detainees held by the United States at Guantánamo Bay Naval base and elsewhere since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The lawyers’ accounts are arranged to form an approximate chronological narrative of the Guantánamo litigation, although the chronology is interrupted to a degree in some of the chapters that deal with matters such as torture, rendition, and the cases of detainees held outside Guantánamo. Short introductory explanations by the editors appear throughout, and provide some context and continuity to the lawyers’ stories.
The book begins with the establishment of Guantánamo as a detention facility after 9/11, and the decision of certain lawyers to get involved from an early stage in arguing for the habeas corpus rights of Guantánamo detainees, then termed “the worst of the worst”. In 2002, lawyers willing to represent terrorist suspects were few and far between. Among the initial few were Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional rights; Joe Margulies, Clive Stafford Smith and Eric Freedman, all lawyers with expertise in death penalty litigation, also joined the cause from the outset.
These pioneers were later joined by many others, particularly after the Supreme Court’s 2004 decisions concerning the war on terrorism. The general picture that emerges about the motivations of the lawyers is that they did it out of a strong belief in the rule of law and due process, as well as a desire to restore the United States’ adherence to its own ideals. Many of the stories emphasize that the decision to act for the detainees was a form of patriotism as well — a salient point in light of the recent (and widely discredited) attack on the integrity of current Department of Justice lawyers who had previously worked on Guantánamo litigation.