Written By: Kawkab al-Thaibani
Article Date: May 30, 2007 - 6:52:39 AM
hildren of Guantanamo detainees send messages to their far-away fathers.
Fifteen American lawyers have come to Yemen in order to reveal the truth about the situation of Yemeni detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, they said this week at a press conference in Sana’a. They claim that the U.S. government was lying when it said that Yemen has refused to accept its detainees back into the country. “The main purpose of our visit is to expose the lie that the Yemeni government does not want its citizens back,” said Tina Foster, the executive director of the International Justice Network.
“To be honest, it is a lie,” said Martha Rayner, an associate clinical professor of law in New York at the press conference held in the Movenpick Hotel last Wednesday and organized by the Hood organization for defending human rights and freedoms. While some 200 lawyers are working on this case, just 15 came to Yemen to represent the group. More than a fifth of the approximately 385 prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared for release, but U.S. officials have been having trouble finding places to send them, said a recent report in The Washington Post.
Since February, some 85 inmates or their attorneys have been told they are eligible to leave, but only a few have gone home. Eighty-two remained at the prison. In some cases, the Post story says, the prisoners’ home countries do not want them back. According to the story, Yemen has declined to accept some of the 106 Yemeni nationals in prison, challenging the legality of their citizenship.
However, the Americans lawyers refute this. On their visit to Yemen this week, the lawyers were surprised that many officials refused to meet with them. The Minister of Interior and officials from Political Security and National Security declined to meet the lawyers, said Rayner. “But the hardest thing is that that the presidential office refused to meet us,” she said. “There was no response from either the Yemeni Embassy a month ago, or the presidential office here,” said Foster. However, the Presidential Protocol Office claimed that they had not received any official letter from the lawyers requesting a meeting with the president. Despite their disappointments, the legal team thanked the MPs who are cooperating with them, headed by Sakhar al-Wajeeh.
“We want President Saleh to expose the lie of President Bush,” said Rayner. They lawyers wonder why detainees from Europe or even Saudia Arabia have been released, whereas Yemenis, who make up the majority of detainees, remain in prison. “How many detainees have been released? Just eight, only eight,” said Rayner. She said no charges have been filed against the detainees. “A father of my client said to tell me to do this: to tell President Saleh to consider his son as his son, but I think it would be better if he and the other kids (of detainees) could tell him that,” said Rayner.
“I do blame our government for this, but the Yemeni government also has to do its responsibilities,” said Rayner. They read in the Yemen Observer that President Saleh talked to Bush during his visit, to talk to him about the detainees, said Rayner. “This gives us moral support. But words are not enough, they have to be backed with actions”, said Rayner. “The president has to meet the families and the delegations,” said Rayner. A committee of nine MPs has been formed to follow up the situation of Yemeni detainees. The MPs also directed a letter to the US congress, asking it to close Guantanamo, said al-Wajeeh.
“I asked the president to meet the lawyers, to reveal the lying politics of the US,” said al-Wajeeh. “If that does not happen, many questions marks will be raised.” The American lawyers paid all of the expenses of this trip from their own pockets and those of their firms. At the press conference, a little boy named Abdullah, the son of the detainee Ismail al-Raimi, sent a message to his father, saying how much he missed him, and how he was waiting to show him the results of his studies. His message was so touching that several of the lawyers were moved to tears. But, this is not the first time the American lawyers have cried.
A brother of one of the detainees sent his brother a message through video, and while it was playing, all were in tears. “It was so moving, he told his brother to stay strong and spoke of his hopes to speak with him again,” said Brant Rushforth, a lawyer from the Heller Ehrman firm. “The case became so personal; the Gulf, region, culture and race make no difference, we are people.” At last the minute, the lawyers were informed that President Saleh would meet with them. “Hood informed us of that, and therefore lots of lawyers cancelled their airline tickets and were ready to pay thousands of dollars to get other tickets,” said Foster.
“In fact, [the meeting] was confirmed, but then it was cancelled,” said Foster. It was decided that the president would confer with Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi, with whom the legal team had met previously. “We were extremely disappointed,” said Foster. However, she thinks that they lawyers have begun to achieve some of their goals by talking to the Ministers of Human Rights and Foreign Affairs, and some MPs, who all said that they wanted the detainees back. “I am talking on behalf of Yemen,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi. “Our position is that we want our citizens back.”
He also said that the detainees will be subject to the Yemen constitution, and the government would then examine their files to determine if there is any basis for the accusations against them. This was the Yemeni position from the beginning, from 2002 and 2003, when Yemen found out about its detainees, said al-Qirbi. Al-Qirbi said he was not aware of having any meeting scheduled with the president to discuss the detainees on behalf of the lawyers. Foster said that al-Qirbi had told them that lawyers were the reason that the detainees have not been brought to Yemen. “The US government said that if the detainees came back, they would be tortured, and this is a lie,” said Foster.
Foster that there are other detainees, such as those from the Uighur ethnic group from Western China that have not been allowed to go back to their country, where it is suspected they would be killed or tortured. “So we just ask for 30 days advance notice to ask our clients if they want to come back or not; all the Yemeni detainees want to,” said Foster. “This is not the only lie the U.S. government has told about the lawyers,” said Foster. “They also told a lie that the detainees committed suicide, and they do this to gain world sympathy. Other lies are designed to destroy the relationship between them and their clients.
“They have told the detainees that we are gay, Jewish and working with Israel,” said Foster. Also, there are over two hundred detainees without a lawyer, said Rayner. The U.S. government said they have not requested lawyers. “Honestly, I really do not know why.” Detainees are starting to lose hope, said Rayner. There are some clients who are starting to lose hope of ever going back home.
“My brother is so desperate, he is on a hunger strike. He does not want to meet with any lawyer; he feels there is no hope,” said Abdullah al-Shumrani, the brother of detainee Othman al-Shumrani. Foster does not believe that the problem is only in Guantanamo prison, because there are other prisons all over the world as bad as Guantanamo. “Forty-thousand people are being held by the US government, most of them are in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Foster. There are many Yemenis being held in Bagram in Afghanistan. Foster’s organization has started to work on this issue.
The Supreme Court in the USA has prevented the government from sending more detainees to Guantanamo, so they have been taken to other detention facilities, she said. Foster has met the families of the detainees in Bagram, and she got the authorizations from the families. “Closing Guantanamo is not the end of the problem, we are filing against the root of the problem; Americans have abandoned the rule of the law and its founding principles,” said Foster. Foster thanked the Hood organization for their help. “Without the help of Hood, nothing would happen and the case will be hidden.”
The American lawyers said that they would not stop fighting, even if there is no cooperation from the Yemeni government. “We will not stop fighting, and will put pressure on the US Congress to give them a trial,” said Michael Poulshock, a lawyer from the Law Office of Judith Chomsky. However, if the president cooperates with them, things will be different. “Things will move forward and, at the least, President Bush will not be able to use Yemen as an excuse.”
“Ultimately, we are fighting in court and in congress to get the right of Habeas-Corpus,” said Brant Rushforth, a lawyer from the Heller Ehrman firm. This is simply the right of any prisoner to a fair trial. However, if there is no presidential cooperation, it will take at least another two years to resolve this, he said. Rushforth believed that the US Congress would help the case, since the Democrats now hold the majority of seats, and thus can weaken Bush’s power. “The release will happen, but we want to be sooner,” he said. Poulshock expressed his disappointment with the American media.
“The American media failed us because they did not ask us enough critical questions on the Iraq issues,” said Poulshock. “The media intended to go along with whatever the government said.” Lawyers have stated clearly that these illegal acts are not representing Americans and America. “There are millions of Americans who disagreed with the US government and what it did to the Yemeni People,” said Mari Newman, a lawyer from Killmer, Lane and Newman. Newman wore a headscarf out of respect to the Yemenis, and to show that we are all humans.
Millions of Americans have protested in order to convince the government to close Guantanamo; also, the former and the current defense ministers are supporters of this case, said Foster. “I am really angry at my government, and at the way it deals with terrorism,” said Deborah Mantell, 33, a law graduate who came with her professor Martha Rayner.
“The actions of the US government do not reflect us [Americans]. The US government claims that Guantanamo was established to protect the national security of America,” said Mantell. “I do believe it has threatened the national security, and I feel it has put me at great risk.”
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