Once, Al Dossari mimicked one of his interrogators. “ ‘You can’t punk me, motherfucker, I’m from Brooklyn,’ ” he said. Colangelo-Bryan laughed and told him that he’d once lived in Brooklyn. But it was clear Al Dossari was suffering. “Josh,” he said at the end of one meeting, “what can I do to keep myself from going crazy here?”
Al Dossari had expressed an interest in reading some children’s books so that he could improve his English, so the firm sent a care package that included Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, and Cinderella. It was returned with a yellow Post-it that read, “These items were not cleared for delivery to the detainee(s).”
The Department of Defense’s refusal to allow the books touched off a competition over who had the better lawyers. “When we would explain to our clients that we had tried to get them the books but that the government wouldn’t let us, they would say, ‘Well, the Kuwaitis’ lawyers got them books. Why can’t you?’ ” says Marc Falkoff, a 39-year-old former associate at Covington & Burling who is co-counsel to seventeen Yemeni detainees.
The Kuwaitis bragged that their lawyers had brought them DVDs of family members. Then one of Falkoff’s requests—for an Arabic lifestyle magazine—made it through. “Our clients celebrated that day, and everyone knew the lawyers for the Yemenis got the magazines into the camp. That was our big coup,” he says.
Inevitably, as the lawyers spent more time with their clients, the legal battle they signed up for became much more personal. They were meeting likable, often apolitical men who seemed baffled by their confinement. Several Yemenis told their attorneys that they were picked up in a sweep of their international dorm at a university in Pakistan and had never been to Afghanistan. One of them, Fahmi Abdullah Al Tawlaqi, who says his studies weren’t going well because he was smoking too much hashish, stands four-foot-eleven. Although he says he endured his share of abuse at Gitmo—once, soldiers shaved his head in the shape of a cross—he has also made an amazing discovery: rap music.
Al Tawlaqi adopted the rap name King Daniel, which he drew on his prison jumpsuit. He filled two notebooks with rap lyrics, in English, organized by subject. (The lawyers can’t say what the songs are about because Justice Department officials wouldn’t declassify the lyrics, though they assured me they are “very lewd,” with lots of references to erections.) Al Tawlaqi asked his lawyers if they could persuade Eminem to perform his songs.
Two other Allen & Overy lawyers—28-year-old Sarah Havens and 25-year-old Neha Singh Gohil—say they worried that their clients might not want to meet with female lawyers and took care to dress modestly and cover their heads. Though gender relations have proved difficult for some of the lawyers—Jennifer Ching and Julia Tarver Mason, lawyers from Paul, Weiss who are representing Saudi detainees, say they wouldn’t look some of their clients in the eye—they haven’t been much of an issue with the Yemenis. One of them recently asked Havens if she’d be interested in marrying him. “Sarah, don’t you know that we would be famous throughout the world? The American lawyer and her Guantánamo detainee!”
As 2005 wore on, with no movement in the courts, the lawyers grew increasingly frustrated. Slowly, they came to realize that they were of little help on the legal front, but that their presence brought some solace. “It’s really gotten to the point where if I can make them laugh for a half-hour, make them realize that not all Americans are bad, I feel I’ve done my job,” Havens says. She spent her junior year at Brown studying in Egypt and learned to speak Arabic “like an Egyptian taxi driver,” which her clients find hilarious.
Another Allen & Overy lawyer, 32-year-old Douglas Cox, recalls how one of their clients, Emad Abdullah Hassan, 26, regarded as a leader by other detainees, went on a hunger strike. A few months into it, military doctors started force-feeding him by inserting a tube through his nose. The process was so painful that Hassan felt he couldn’t take it anymore. He didn’t want to quit, though, because he thought he would be letting down the other detainees.
After a year, several detainees had been released, but most of them were from European countries with clout in Washington. The other detainees were growing increasingly frustrated. Colangelo-Bryan recalls one visit in which his client asked, “Can you get me a clock? I once had a clock in my cell and now I don’t. I’d like a clock. Can you get me one?” When Colangelo-Bryan said he couldn’t, his client asked, “Then what good is it to have a lawyer?”