A federal judge today ruled that a young Guantanamo detainee be released and allowed to return to Afghanistan. Anchor Katy Clark speaks with law professor Mark Denbeaux about his project to document and archive everything related to legal cases of Guantanamo detainees.
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KATY CLARK: I’m Katy Clark, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. A federal judge today ruled that a Guantanamo detainee is being held illegally and should be released. The detainee’s name is Mohammed Jawad. He’s one of the youngest prisoners still at Guantanamo. He was reportedly just 17 back in 2002 when he was arrested in Afghanistan for allegedly throwing a grenade that wounded two US soldiers. Major David Frakt has been defending Jawad. He’s an Air Force lawyer with the Judge Advocate General corps.
DAVID FRAKT: Well we’re, we’re elated. You know it is the culmination of a lot of hard work. I think it’s a great victory for the rule of law. I never stopped believing that justice would ultimately prevail, in this case.
KATY CLARK: According to the judge’s order today, Jawad should be released and returned to Afghanistan by the end of August. But the Justice Department is pursuing a criminal investigation and may seek to bring him back for a criminal trial. Even so, David Frakt says, today’s ruling is important.
DAVID FRAKT: The significance of today’s ruling is that United states will no longer hold an innocent teenager who’s been wrongfully detained for nearly seven years, abused, tortured, and that he’ll be going home and reunited with his family and can get on with his life. So that’s a victory for justice and for the American way.
KATY CLARK: Mohammed Jawad’s case is just one of many that Mark Denbeaux is trying to document.
MARK DENBEAUX: There really is a question of what the true story of Guantanamo is and I think the details of it are more powerfully persuasive of what Guantanamo is than the generalizations that have been allowed by the government to date.
KATY CLARK: Denbeaux is a law professor at Seton Hall University. He’s also been defending a number of Guantanamo detainees. Together with fellow lawyer Jonathan Hafetz, he’s trying to create an archive of the legal documents, interviews and testimony related to the detainees at the U-S detention facility in Guantanamo. The materials they collect will include oral histories from the hundreds of defense lawyers who’ve worked on detainee cases.
MARK DENBEAUX: The lawyers are the depositories of a great deal of primary source, first person information. And all of us have become aware that there are many reasons to believe this will disappear. And the project will attempt first to preserve and protect the information that’s out there, and then to collect it. And one of the protection problems is that the government has asserted a right to destroy all of the secret documents that have been provided to us, upon the completion of the cases. So one of our problems is to make sure that all of the records are preserves as opposed to destroyed.
KATY CLARK: And you’re talking about lawyer’s notes and you’re going to the lawyers first because they’re the ones who’ve really had the most extensive conversations with the men being held at Guantanamo outside of the government?
MARK DENBEAUX: Well, they’re the only ones who have conversations with the men in Guantanamo. And the more significant thing is, the bizarre way in which the government has restricted our ability to get access to our notes, means that all of our notes are preserved in one big building, or one floor of a building outside Washington. Because many people don’t
understand that after we interview our clients in Guantanamo, we take our notes, then we have to give them to the government, and then the government sends them to this secure facility where we have to go there to look at them. And then they have also said, upon the completion of all the cases, all of these documents, the secret documents will be destroyed. And so, no one quite knows what that means, and our first goal, if you’re trying to collect documents, is to preserve them. And so, then one of the steps that we have to go through in the near future is some litigation to preserve the documents.
KATY CLARK: Now, you represent three men being held at Guantanamo. I’m wondering if by doing this you’re trying to make a case either for or against Guantanamo?
MARK DENBEAUX: Oh, I guess I couldn’t fairly claim I’m not trying to make a case against Guantanamo. But, you know, I am also an academic and I actually was motivated to a large extent by my watching how historical events disappear and get re-characterized. I’ve told many people I was in Selma, Alabama in 1965, and none of us knew that was important when we were there, everything about it became important after we disappeared, and everything was lost except the recordings of the activities of the, obviously the significant players. Here the lawyers are all aware that this is really an important event. We all have different political views and different perspectives, but everybody believes that the preservation of this material will be essential in allowing people other than ourselves to evaluate Guantanamo.
KATY CLARK: Mark Denbeaux directs the center for policy and research at Seaton Hall University’s school of law. Thank you so much.
MARK DENBEAUX: Thank you very much.
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