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Why I am Representing a "Detainee" at Guantanamo

Let me tell you a little about my client. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi was a civilian in Afghanistan. He was a shopkeeper that sold honey and bread. He has a wife and a young daughter.
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I'm not being paid. In fact, I am paying to do this. In fact, I am paying a lot of money to do this because in the legal profession, time is money, and I am also spending an incredible amount of time on this matter.

Why am I doing it? Imagine if someone dropped a thousand leaflets over your city that said "we will pay you enough money to support you, your immediate family and your extended family for the rest of your life if you turn over individuals who are 'murderers and terrorists.'" Imagine- your immediate family and your extended family taken care of for the rest of your life and all you have to do is turn over "murderers and terrorists."

When we started dropping the bombs in Afghanistan in 2001, we also started dropping something else. Leaflets. And not just in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan and other countries. Thousands upon thousands of leaflets offering some of the poorest and most desperate people in the world something that would be hard for even the average American to turn down: financial security for their families for life.


First you have to decide who are those murderers and terrorists. Is it some creditor, a bad neighbor, or perhaps someone on the next block that you don't really know? Do you care when the bounty is enough money to take care of your family for the rest of your life? The reality is that a lot of people wouldn't care, and as it turns out, a lot of people in war ravaged countries didn't care.

So now, I am representing one of the hundreds of men being held at Guantánamo because they were turned over for a bounty. I am not from a big law firm (there are many big law firms that have taken on these cases, for which we should all be very appreciative). I am at attorney with almost 25 years experience, but working with me is only one young associate and a para-legal. However, I am spending my money because, to me, this is about as important as it gets. My government, our government, has turned it's back on the rule of law (not to mention the rest of the world) and now it is up to the rest of us to try to set things right.

Let me tell you a little about my client. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi was a civilian in Afghanistan. He was a shopkeeper that sold honey and bread. He has a wife and a young daughter. His daughter was almost six months old the last time he saw her; that was five years ago. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi was originally from Libya, but he had lived in Afghanistan since shortly after the Russians left. His wife is Afghani.

When the American bombs started to fall on Mr. Al-Ghizzawi's city he did what most people would do, he fled. He took his wife and infant daughter to his wife's parent's home in the country, to escape the bombs. Unfortunately, Mr. Al-Ghizzawi was not well known in the area where his in-laws lived and, being Arab, he was apprehended by bounty hunters. The bounty hunters turned Mr. Al-Ghizzawi over to the Northern Alliance, who in turn turned him over to the United States and he was sent to Guantánamo. That was almost five years ago. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi has never been charged with anything while at Guantánamo and has never been told what he is accused of doing. He has never been given the opportunity to prove his innocence.

That alone is pretty pathetic, but there is more. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi is ill. In fact, he is probably dying of liver cancer. But you see, our government doesn't make mistakes, so it will not acknowledge that Mr. Al-Ghizzawi (and hundreds of others at Guantánamo) was wrongly picked up, wrongly held and not receiving proper medical care.

I was allowed to visit my client for the first time in July after representing him for almost a year. It was readily apparent when I met Mr. Al-Ghizzawi that he was ill. He was jaundiced and gaunt looking, he was clearly in pain when he was talking with me and was suffering from other symptoms, which we discussed. When I returned to my office, I started to call doctors to help me determine what was wrong with Mr. Al-Ghizzawi. I was eventually referred to the renowned Dr. Donald Jensen of the University of Chicago. Of course, without seeing medical records and having appropriate tests performed a diagnosis is difficult, but Dr. Jensen is concerned that Mr. Al-Ghizzawi is suffering from liver cancer. Liver cancer can be successfully treated if caught early enough, but our government hasn't been concerned with figuring out what is wrong with Mr. Al-Ghizzawi much less treating him.

I also have found an amazing doctor in a state of the art medical clinic in Berne Switzerland who has agreed to treat Mr. Al-Ghizzawi if arrangements can be made to move him there. However, Dr. Juerg Reichen doesn't hold much hope for seeing my client alive because he needs to be treated immediately, not when the government finally gets around to responding to Mr. Al-Ghizzawi's numerous requests for medical care.

So why am I representing a detainee at Guantánamo? Because it is the right thing to do. No matter what the personal price to me. Because our country has a history of being a country founded on the rule of law and although our current government has turned its back on our proud history, I refuse to do the same.

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