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Two months after they first visited Cuba, Chandler and Wilhelm flew to Yemen. The small, dirt-poor country wrapped around the southern end of Saudi Arabia is one that Chandler admits he "couldn't have picked out on a map" before his visit.
Several of the detainees' family members -- including Al Adahi's wife and children -- traveled 12 hours by bus to meet them at their Western-style hotel in Sana'a, the country's 2,500-year-old capital nestled in the mountains 7,000 feet above sea level. The men they met wore ordinary dress shirts over long, skirt-like woven wraps and carefully tied head scarves, while women wore floor-length burqas with only a small square to reveal their heavily made-up eyes.
Armed with the vital endorsement of a Yemeni human-rights organization and speaking through a local interpreter, the lawyers found a strong ally in Salem Al-Assani, the father of the youngest of their clients and an elder among the family members.
Wilhelm, who had dreaded traveling to an orthodox Muslim country, found that when women removed their burqas away from men, they talked about familiar subjects, such as their families, their homes and popular movies. She even joined the men in the social pastime of chewing qat leaves, a mild stimulant that she quickly spat out.
At the end of the visit, Al-Assani and the other parents and siblings recorded DVD testimonials to assure the detainees that the attorneys were not part of a CIA plot. But administration lawyers denied clearance for the discs to be given to detainees. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former Army lawyer, even went to the well of the Senate to ridicule what he described as a request for "Gitmo to set aside its normal security policies and show detainees DVDs that are purported to be family videos."
After a brief flurry of legal motions, a U.S. district court in Washington approved the clearance and the government opted not to prolong the battle. "They never want to fight," Chandler says of the Justice Department's half-hearted efforts to suppress the videos. "They only want to jerk you around."
OBTAINING APPROVAL for the DVDs proved to be the last tangible progress in any of the lawsuits. The already strict security at the camps has continually tightened, Wilhelm says, with arbitrary new rules that seem specifically designed to interfere with the attorneys' ability to meet with detainees.
Wilhelm says the once-professional demeanor of camp guards and officers has steadily degraded into open contempt and even verbal abuse, such as when a senior officer yelled at her for refusing to leave when she was told she didn't have proper clearance to see a client.
The Department of Defense did not return calls from Creative Loafing seeking comment about the treatment of the lawyers at Guantanamo.
"I've been a law-abiding American citizen but, down there, I'm treated like the enemy," Wilhelm says. "It's like their entire goal is to make my life miserable. If they're treating me this way and showing such little respect for my role and our legal system, then imagine how they're treating these suspected terrorists."
Of course, the world got its first inkling of how some Gitmo detainees were treated in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal in spring 2004, when it was acknowledged that several of the abusive interrogation techniques used in the notorious Baghdad prison -- threats from attack dogs, sexual humiliation and being shackled for hours in painful "stress positions" -- were first rolled out in Cuba in early 2002.
Since then, dozens of former prisoners and even military interrogators have alleged that many Gitmo detainees were drugged and subjected to beatings, forced enemas and extreme temperatures.
Although three of the Yemenis, including Al Adahi, claim to have been abused early on by guards at Guantanamo, Wilhelm says the great irony of her clients' predicament is that the U.S. government seems largely to have lost interest in them.
"The four younger guys, they don't really care about," she says. "They've stopped interrogating them." Al Adahi continues to be questioned on occasion, as the government apparently still believes he had links to terror operatives.
Over the past two years, government documents and even the military's own generals have admitted that, far from being the "worst of the worst," the vast majority of Gitmo detainees are considered low-value prisoners with little direct connection to terrorism -- only 10 of the remaining 450 detainees had been charged with a crime.
Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, the camp commander at Guantanamo until he left the post earlier this year, voiced his frustration to the Wall Street Journal in early 2005. "Sometimes," he said, "we just didn't get the right folks."
THIS PAST JUNE, the Supreme Court dealt the administration another blow when it ruled that the military tribunals -- which permitted secret charges and hearsay evidence -- were illegal under the Geneva Conventions and had not been approved by Congress.
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