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The Minutes of the Guantánamo Bay Bar Association


Falkoff said that six of his Yemeni clients declined to meet with him. “We don’t believe any of them really want us to withdraw representation,” he rationalized. “It’s more that the process has become painful for them. One of my clients told me, ‘You brought hope and it was a mirage. I can’t take it anymore.’ ”

But the lawyers were having another kind of success. As they got more of their interview notes declassified—and as more and more corporate firms joined the Guantánamo Bay Bar Association—they started speaking to the press. Soon, stories began portraying Gitmo not as a detention center full of hardened terrorists but as a prison camp that was mostly full of low-level militants and men who were simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Each time a story appeared or the lawyers were interviewed on the radio or TV, their BlackBerrys filled up with hate mail. Falkoff received an e-mail from a Pennsylvania salesman who called himself the “master seller” asking, “How do you sleep at night defending a scumbag like that who wants both you and I to die a painful death? . . . Do you feel like a traitor? Just curious.” One of Colangelo-Bryan’s numerous hate mails read, “I wonder when you terrorist lawyers are going to realize that the rest of us in this country don’t really care how long those terrorists rot in Club Gitmo.”

Last July, Al Dossari gave Colangelo-Bryan a twenty-page diary he had written about his time in U.S. custody, detailing more abuse and humiliation than he had previously told his lawyer, including women playing with his genitalia, being watched as he urinated and defecated, and once having the hairs of his beard plucked out one by one. The diary, which has been translated, opened:

I wonder how my ailing heart could bear these memories. How did my body endure the pains of torturing? How did my soul survive all these pressures? I wish all this could be obliterated out of my memory and imagination. Yet, how could I forget all this when the marks continue to witness for the rest of my life the wounds, injuries, pain, and sadness inflicted on me? From the darkness of prison and from the depth of detention centers I inscribe my suffering . . . my pain . . . my sadness, an endless story, the suffering of years and months. From here, from behind horrific bars I write these lines of the life I spent and continue to spend in American detention camps.

On the last page, Al Dossari had written an addendum. It read in part:

I would like to note that not all American soldiers stationed here in Cuba tortured us and oppressed us. There were soldiers who treated us very humanely. . . . Some even apologized for the maltreatment and torture and expressed disapproval of the camp’s management and the American government’s unfairness and wrongdoing in treating us. For example, when I was in Camp Delta India Block while tortured, a black soldier came to me and offered his apology and offered me a hot chocolate drink and a few cookies and sweets. When I thanked him, he said: “I do not need you to thank me. I need you to know that we are not all oppressors.” . . . This is precisely what made me add this comment at the end of my story for I don’t want the reader to think that I fault all Americans . . . . I did not mention all such incidents in the course of telling my story because I was striving to speak about our deplorable conditions. There was no room to add this comment until now. But for the sake of justice and fairness I wanted to add this comment for any American who may read my story.

In June 2005, Colangelo-Bryan, Sullivan, and another Dorsey & Whitney partner, 36-year-old Chris Karagheuzoff, traveled to Bahrain. Bahrain is host to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, so they hoped the country would have some leverage. They met with their clients’ families, held meetings with parliamentarians, and gave interviews to the Bahraini press.

The trips improved their relationships with their clients; on subsequent Gitmo visits, the lawyers could provide news from home. Havens says that she had one client who would sit in the corner of his cell with his prayer rug over his head, refusing to speak. But when she explained in her broken Arabic that, on a trip to Yemen, she had seen his mother, who had given her a ring, her client said, through tears, “Sarah, you deserve so much more than that.” It was the first thing he had said in months.


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