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Guantanamo Lawyers Say Work is Life-Changing

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Guantanamo Lawyers Say Work is Life-Changing

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Guantanamo Lawyers Say Work is Life-Changing

Guantanamo Lawyers Say Work is Life-Changing

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On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases that could determine whether Guantanamo Bay detainees can go to U.S. civilian courts to challenge their confinement. Two corporate lawyers for whom work at Guantanamo has been a life-changing experience talk with John Ydstie.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases that could determine whether Guantanamo Bay detainees can go to U.S. civilian courts to challenge their confinement. Many of the lawyers representing these and hundreds of other prisoners at Guantanamo work at some of the county's top law firms. They're representing the detainees pro bono - for free. For many of them, it is work that's worlds away from their regular jobs, and for some, it's been a life-changing experience.

We're joined by two of those lawyers. David Remes is a partner at Covington & Burling in Washington, and he joins us here in the studio. Welcome.

Mr. DAVID REMES (Partner, Covington & Burling): Hello, John.

YDSTIE: And Thomas Sullivan is a former U.S. attorney who is a partner in the Chicago office of Jenner & Block and joins us from our member station WOI in Des Moines, Iowa. Welcome to you, Mr. Sullivan.

Mr. THOMAS SULLIVAN (Former U.S. Attorney; Partner, Jenner & Block): Thank you, John.

YDSTIE: First of all, I wonder, how did each of you end up representing Guantanamo detainees? Let's start with you, David Remes.

Mr. REMES: Well, an associate in our New York office learned that the Center for Constitutional Rights was looking for lawyers in private law firms to represent the prisoners after the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that they were entitled to have lawyers to handle their cases. And CCR gave us 14 Yemeni prisoners, and we cleared it with the firm, and we were off to the races.

YDSTIE: How about you, Mr. Sullivan, how did you get involved?

Mr. SULLIVAN: A couple of years ago, I read in the New York Times that the center was looking for lawyers to assist in the representation of these prisoners, and I called up and volunteered.

YDSTIE: Has either of you been involved in any of the cases that are going to be before the court specifically on Wednesday?

Mr. REMES: My clients are parties in the court that's - in the case that's going to be heard in the Supreme Court.

YDSTIE: And who are they?

Mr. REMES: They are 12 Yemenis who were seized inside Pakistan by bounty hunters. We were offering $5,000 a head in a country whose annual income is about $200. And some of our clients were also picked up by the Pakistani border police as they fled across the border. Arabs were identified with the Taliban government, and when the U.S. started bombing and the Northern Alliance forces started attacking the Taliban government, the Arabs fled for their lives. And as they came over the pass into Pakistan, it was presumed that they had been in Afghanistan for no good reason.

One of our clients was an aid worker who was dragged out of his bed in the middle of the night in Karachi because he happened to give food and medical assistance to another charity that was identified later as having been involved with the al-Qaida people. It's sort of that extension of guilt by association that some of the men are being held there on, and the rest of them are essentially being held on the allegations of other prisoners, many of which, we believe, have been coerced or are simply hearsay.

YDSTIE: How about you, Mr. Sullivan, who are your clients?

Mr. SULLIVAN: We've had about 20 clients, four of whom have been sent back from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, and one or two other countries. I'll give you an example. The first client I represented was a policeman from Riyadh who'd been on the police force for 17 years with a perfect record, a man with a wife and four children - a 1-year-old daughter. He took a two-month leave of absence to go to Afghanistan to do humanitarian work. We invaded; he fled, as David said, into Pakistan; went to the Pakistani authorities; they sold him to our government.

I met him first in January 2006. He was released without explanation, without notice to me, without compensation, and without apology in March of 2006. He had not seen his 1-year-old daughter between the time she was one and the time she was five and a half years old nor had he seen his wife and their other three children. They never charged the man. In fact, I know what in the classified evidence - there is no basis to charge the man. He never should have been put in there in the first place.

YDSTIE: David Remes, have you been down there to visit?

Mr. REMES: I've been down there more than half a dozen times. The first time we were down was the greatest shock because we didn't know what to expect, and I came away feeling appalled and horrified, and it really took me two days to sleep off the depression that I was left with. The men were kept in cages, many of them were very, very thin, they complained that their medical needs were not taken care of, that they were abused by the guards and so forth, and this was a universal experience of the men.

YDSTIE: Has this episode done permanent damage to the justice system itself? Has it done permanent damage to American's view of their own justice system and the rest of the world's view of our justice system? Mr. Sullivan?

Mr. SULLIVAN: I'm not sure how much the average citizen knows about what's really going down in Guantanamo, but I can tell you this, John, of the people that are down there, not a single one of them - and this is no exaggeration -of the hundreds that are down there, not a single one of them has ever had an opportunity to appear before a tribunal with a lawyer and have the government lawyer or whoever adduce evidence, explaining why they're being held. The hearings that they were given are a farce. It is a scandal, a disgrace and a stain on our system of justice. And I would say that you can be as right-wing as you want, and you will still be horrified by what we have done to those men down in Guantanamo Bay.

YDSTIE: Thomas Sullivan is a former U.S. attorney and a partner in the Chicago office of Jenner & Block. David Remes is a partner at Covington & Burling in Washington; he represents 12 Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo. Thanks very much to both of you.

Mr. REMES: Thank you, John.

Mr. SULLIVAN: You're most welcome.

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