Freedom detained 

Atlanta lawyers fight to gain rights for those held in Guantanamo

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But Wilhelm had no desire to discover firsthand how women are treated in the Middle East or to put her own safety at risk. She had emphatically told her colleagues that, no matter how things went at Guantanamo Bay, she would not be traveling with them to Yemen.

Al Adahi was upbeat but even though there were no guards in the room, he was also cautious. He'd been surprised by the visit -- a letter they'd sent a month earlier had never been delivered -- but he had heard that other detainees had been contacted by lawyers. To Wilhelm's relief, he spoke as readily to her, a young American woman, as to Chandler.

He told them he was a laborer for a state-owned oil company, and had left his wife and two young children behind in Yemen to accompany his sister to her arranged marriage in Afghanistan in mid-2001. Then, he said, he had traveled around the country for several weeks and, after the U.S. invasion, was seized on a bus carrying Taliban soldiers into Pakistan.

He'd been singled out, American officials had told him, partly because, like many other detainees, he wore a cheap, very common style of Casio watch sometimes used in roadside bombs. But when Wilhelm and Chandler pressed for further details about his background, Al Adahi waved them off.

"Now you're sounding like an interrogator," he warned more than once.

Although Wilhelm suspected there was more to Al Adahi's travels in Afghanistan than he was telling, she says the allegations against him -- that he was in Kabul during the bombing, that he was seen tending to wounded Taliban soldiers during his bus trip -- are sketchy and circumstantial at best.

"I came out of that meeting thinking he may have some shady connections, but this is not a criminal mastermind," Wilhelm recalls. "He's a human being who has been held here for four years without being charged with anything or even told why he's being held."

Over the course of the first week of meetings, she says, she became convinced that none of the detainees she met posed any real threat to the United States or held any dark secrets that justified their ongoing imprisonment.

Still, the attorneys emerged from the interviews without the necessary signed agreements.

"Think about this for a minute," Chandler says. "These men have not seen a human being for three years except for military personnel and interrogators, and we walk in and say, 'Hey, I'm this white guy from America and I'm here to help you.'"

At the close of that first interview, Al Adahi handed Wilhelm a photo of his daughter, Marwa, 9, and his 7-year-old son, Azzam, neither of whom he had seen since 2001.

"I need you to go to Yemen and talk with my wife and children," he told her.

As she left the trailer, Wilhelm turned to Chandler and said, "I guess I'm going to Yemen."

AFTER THEIR TRIP to Cuba, the attorneys were allowed to see the classified files of the detainees they'd met. They were surprised to discover that the documents contained only vague information about the evidence against the detainees, and specified no crimes the prisoners might have committed.

Other Atlanta members of the Guantanamo Bay Bar Association have had similar experiences.

Veteran defense attorney Howard Manchel represents Abdullah Ibrahim Al Rushaidan, a Saudi who said he'd been plucked out of a car by a bounty hunter in Pakistan and brought to Guantanamo blindfolded, chained to the floor of a cargo plane. Manchel's client was later sent back to Saudi Arabia, whose government threw him into prison -- all without explanation.

When asked about the man's crime, Manchel laughs bitterly. "Being the usual suspect in the wrong place at the wrong time," he says. "He was held as an enemy combatant, but he wasn't captured on a battlefield and there was no allegation that he'd had any special training. There's nothing I've seen to suggest that he's done anything wrong."

Emmet Bondurant, a prominent Atlanta litigator, is likewise frustrated with the lack of evidence against his client, a 39-year-old Moroccan named Ahmed Errachidi. In fact, a recent investigation by the Boston Globe concluded that during the months the U.S. government claims he attended an al-Qaeda training camp, Errachidi was actually working at a restaurant in London.

"The pretext for holding him is that he allegedly belonged to some Moroccan terror group, but there's no evidence that's true," Bondurant says. "This guy never had any intelligence value from day one and, after four years, anything he might have known is probably on Wikipedia."

Bondurant believes the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay represent the most serious violation of the Constitution by a president in our nation's history. "This administration's view, literally, is 'the king can do no wrong,'" he says.


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