Two local lawyers told a congressional subcommittee yesterday at a hearing in Boston that the federal government is unlawfully detaining their clients at the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison facility.
"These are detainees who have been cleared for release by the US government - for some, years ago - yet they remain imprisoned at Guantanamo because they come from high-risk countries where there is a potential danger of persecution or torture should they be forcibly returned," said Michael E. Mone Jr., an associate with the Boston law firm Esdaile, Barrett & Esdaile. He said the only country to accept such detainees for resettlement has been Albania.
Yesterday's hearing at the federal courthouse in South Boston was the first of many that will be held in Boston and Washington, D.C., on the fate of Guantanamo Bay. The meetings are being held by a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee chaired by Representative William D. Delahunt, a Democrat whose district extends from the South Shore to the Cape and Islands.
Delahunt, like several other national politicians, supports closing the facility in Cuba, where the United States keeps suspected terrorists in what many human rights group criticize as inhumane conditions and where controversial interrogation methods have been used. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, himself said in January that he wants to close the prison as soon as possible because negative publicity about the treatment of suspects has been damaging to the image of the United States, the Associated Press reported.
Delahunt suggested yesterday that some detainees who have been cleared of any wrongdoing should be allowed into the United States so they can be free from persecution. "If we get to a point where we determine that they are totally innocent and their only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time, then we need to share the international community's responsibility of finding the detainees a home," Delahunt said in an interview after the hearing.
Mone - along with Sabin Willett, a partner with Bingham McCutchen in Boston - argued during the hearing that many of their clients had been wrongfully taken into custody and never should have been sent to Guantanamo Bay. They criticized the US government for advertising six years ago, during initial combat in Afghanistan, that it would pay people who handed over suspected terrorists.
Mone said his client, Oybek Jamaldinivich Jabbarov, an Uzbek national, "was an easy mark for soldiers responding to leaflets dropped throughout Afghanistan by the US military offering millions of dollars in cash rewards to anyone who turned over a Taliban or foreign fighter."
The two lawyers shared stories of the horrendous conditions in which they said their clients live. They stay in isolated cells with no natural night, never knowing whether it's day or night. They have little human contact.
"A sign at Guantanamo says 'Honor Bound to Defend Freedom,' " Willett said, "but it would take a better advocate than me to persuade [my client] that we Americans are serious about freedom."
© 2008 The Boston Globe