Amnesty International joins MBA to mark Guantanamo anniversary

Issue February 2008 By Tricia M. Oliver

On Jan. 9, the Massachusetts Bar Association and Amnesty International USA came together to mark the sixth anniversary of detainees being taken into custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. An intimate crowd gathered for a 4 p.m. “Guantanamo and the Rule of Law: Six years Later” panel discussion, followed by a vigil held at the Park Street T station to raise public awareness on this important issue.

The panel discussion was hosted at the MBA’s Boston office and featured AI and MBA leaders, as well as Massachusetts attorneys who had varying levels of experience representing detainees. All panelists were connected with their Guantanamo clients through the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Steven Oleskey, of WilmerHale in Boston, serves as counsel for six Guantanamo detainees and began the panel discussion by presenting attendees with a thorough overview of the history of Guantanamo. Current reports indicate there are 275 imprisoned individuals deemed to be “enemy combatants” of the United States at Guantanamo.

Panelist Ellen Lubell, of Tennant Lubell, a two-attorney firm in Newton, shared a very personal account of her experience visiting Guantanamo to consult with her client. As told by her client, most prisoners who meet with attorneys are then punished for doing so. According to Lubell, her client went four months without seeing the sun as a result of their initial meeting. Lubell also shared with the attendees that she was surprised her client even agreed to meet with her and her law partner again months later.

Oleskey, Lubell and other panelists described how most of their legal efforts with their Guantanamo clients are now directed at putting plans in place should detainees be lucky enough to get released. As the panelists described, once released, most former Guantanamo prisoners will not be allowed back into their native countries. For example, Lubell is working to file an application for asylum in the United States for her client, who is from Algeria. She expects this petition to be rejected; however, she is hopeful that the rejection will help her client’s chances of being granted asylum in a European country.

One of the many poignant moments of the evening program came when Kevin Powers, of Rodgers, Powers and Schwartz in Boston and chair of the MBA’s Individual Rights & Responsibilities Section, read a letter from a detainee to his lawyer. Summarizing the client’s sentiments, Powers said, “This client would rather die than endure the conditions of this prison.”

Josh Rubenstein, of Amnesty International USA, closed the presentation portion of the program by commending the panelists on their pro bono efforts with detainees. He also shed some light on AI’s work advocating against what he characterized as inhumane conditions and treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

When the panel presentation came to a close, several audience members continued on to the Park Street T Station, where they handed out literature and displayed signs to raise awareness of the reality at Guantanamo Bay.