|I am habeas counsel for a man named Khurallah Khairkhwa. He is an Afghan citizen who is being
detained in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. My journey from the steel town of Gary to the prison camp in
Guantanamo, from general practice to international law, is perhaps an unusual path, but a natural one
In my quiet moments, I have often asked myself, “How did I, a solo practitioner, in a distressed, urban
environment like Gary, Indiana get involved in this controversial, international human rights issue? Is it
because I am generally progressive in my politics? Maybe, but many of the other habeas counsel are in
fact conservative in their political leanings and they are no less passionate about the injustice of Gitmo.
And even as a progressive, why risk time, money and possible criticism (the representing terrorist idea),
I was fervently against the invasion of Iraq from the start. I could see clearly through the Bush
administration’s twisted rationale and knew that I had to do all that I could to protest. I participated in
as many anti-invasion activities as I could. Here in Gary, Indiana, where I live, I participated in the
only anti-invasion march held in our community. I traveled to Chicago on several occasions to
participate in marches. Somehow though, each march left me feeling empty. I kept thinking to myself,
there has to be something more that I can do. Isn’t there something that a lawyer can do, with all of our
training, that will have some meaningful impact?
I am a plaintiff’s employment law attorney. Employment law is varied, complicated and rather difficult
for plaintiffs. Because of this difficulty, many plaintiff’s attorneys have joined the National
Employment Lawyer’s Association, which is mainly a plaintiff’s lawyers group dedicated to assisting
employees and those who advocate for them. It’s a great organization. I had joined the Illinois branch
early in my career. They have a list-serve that serves as a forum for the lawyers to ask questions, seek
advice, get pleadings and other assistance from more experienced and senior counsel. One day, while
checking the traffic on the list-serve, I saw a posting by an attorney named Candace Gorman. In her
posting, she had invited all of us on the list-serve to participate in a conference call with the Center for
Constitutional Rights (CCR) to discuss the Guantanamo Bay litigation. The message that she posted
included a call-in number, and date and time. I had heard about Guantanamo Bay. I didn’t know all the
details, but I had read about men who were being held there without trial or access to attorneys.
I dialed in to the conference call and listened to the speaker, Gita Guiterriaz, an attorney with CCR.
She explained the status of the litigation…the men being detained at Gitmo had not been charged with
any crime, there were allegations of torture and abuse, many did not have attorneys and had never had
advice of counsel. She explained that attorneys who chose to assist in this endeavor would need to go
through an extensive background check by the government…that the representation included traveling
to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as well as to Washington, D.C. and possibly to the home country of the
detainee It also included hiring an interpreter. All of this travel, hiring of interpreters and representation
would be done pro bono. In layman’s terms, for free. I listened. At that time, I had only been in private
practice for about 2 years. I had been practicing law for a total of 5 years. I had a small office in a dark,
damp, dilapidated building in Gary, Indiana. I knew next to nothing about criminal law, let alone the
intricacies of the laws of war although I had taken a course in international law in law school. But I had
to get involved in this. It was important. These men were being unjustly detained without access to
counsel..how could I not get involved?
The story of these detained men is now known to the world. As a lawyer, it has transformed my life to
be involved in something so meaningful.
Read my latest article in Truthout.org.