Published on
The Miami Herald

No Hope in Guantánamo

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan

On Monday, I was at Guantánamo Bay to meet with Jumah Al Dossari, one of the detainees my firm represents. As always, I spent the first few hours of our meeting trying to convince Jumah to fight the desperation and hopelessness that threaten what little spirit he has left.

Jumah has been at Guantánamo for more than five years. The government has never charged him with a crime and does not accuse him of taking any action against the United States. For several years, Jumah has been held alone in solid-wall cells from which he cannot see other detainees or communicate except by yelling. He has spent 22 to 24 hours a day by himself in these cells. He has been short shackled, threatened with death and, once, severly beaten. Interrogators have told him that he will be at Guantánamo for the next 50 years and that there is no law at Guantánamo.

Sometimes the idea of spending the rest of his life locked up thousands of miles from his family is too much for Jumah. On Oct. 15, 2005, I walked into an interview room to visit him. There was blood on the floor. I looked up and saw Jumah hanging by his neck from the other side of a metal mesh wall that divided his cell from our meeting area. He was bleeding from a gash in his arm.

I couldn't reach Jumah because the door to the cell was locked. I yelled for guards who came, unlocked the door and cut the noose from Jumah's neck. I was ordered out of the room but later learned that Jumah had survived. Since that day, Jumah has tried to kill himself three times. Last spring he slashed his throat with a razor, spraying blood on the ceiling of his cell.

During our meeting on Monday, we talked about Jumah's court case, a bleak -- and therefore dangerous -- subject. I explained again that the Bush administration insists it may detain anyone it designates an ''enemy combatant'' forever without a trial. I explained how Congress blessed that notion in last year's Military Commissions Act, which bars foreign ''enemy combatants'' from going to court to challenge that designation. I explained that lawyers for the detainees had challenged the act as unconstitutional, but that in February a federal appeals had ruled against us on the grounds that people like Jumah have no rights.

Desperately wanting to boost his spirits, I also told Jumah that there was reason to be optimistic. We had asked the Supreme Court to review the appeals court decision and we felt pretty sure that our request would be granted. Were that to happen, Jumah might be a step closer to a court hearing.

At noon, I went to the galley -- as the cafeteria at Guantánamo is called -- to get lunch for Jumah and myself. While waiting for a burger, I glanced up at a television tuned to CNN. Text ran across the bottom of the screen: ``Supreme Court refuses to hear Guantánamo detainee appeals until alternative procedures are exhausted.''

Our request -- the one reason I had given Jumah to be optimistic -- had been denied. The Supreme Court was saying it might consider the detainees' cases, but not until the detainees subjected themselves to proceedings created by the Military Commissions Act.

It is a disturbing ruling because the government says the purpose of these proceedings is not to determine if a detainee is actually an ''enemy combatant'' but rather to determine if the military followed its own rules in applying the ''enemy combatant'' label. For that reason, detainees will have no chance to produce evidence of their innocence that the military didn't consider or to challenge the use of evidence obtained through torture. Worse yet, these procedures will be held before the same appeals court that recently found the detainees have no rights at all.

I walked slowly back to the room where Jumah sat shackled. I wondered if there was a good way to tell a suicidal man that all three branches of our government appear content to let him rot at Guantánamo. Nothing came to mind.

Maybe I shouldn't have worried. Jumah's reaction to bad legal news has become as muted as his emotions generally. He long ago stopped believing that a court will ever hear his case and thinks I'm naive for hoping otherwise. Instead, Jumah believes that he has been condemned to live forever on an island where there is no law. He may well be right.

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, an attorney, represents several Guantánamo detainees.

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