Imagine for a minute being arrested. You’re headed to court, but you only just met your attorney and they haven’t had enough time to get your full story.
Now imagine this scenario after nine years of detention without charge in a foreign prison. I am Haroon Gul’s lawyer, and he met me three days ago. Three days before his hearing in Guantánamo Bay that could mean his release from captivity, and his return to his family.
Haroon has never had an attorney. I’m it.
I went to law school to be a part of the American justice system, but in Guantánamo, I cannot find it. Flanked by eerily abandoned beaches, the prison represents the antithesis to the American justice system that so many young law students march toward.
Haroon, the bright-eyed and chatty young man I met three days ago, is not allowed to meet alone with his attorney for more than ten minutes before government representatives forcibly remove him from the room. He is told to be grateful for having gotten the fifteen that he did. He looks to me for an answer: “are they right… should I be grateful?” his eyes ask me.
We are new to this, he and I, and we struggle to choose our battles together, for we are both on the sharp end of this version of American justice.
Very little is known to the world about Haroon, and secrecy laws currently ban me from filling in the blanks. What I can say is that he is every bit as heartbroken by the senseless violence in Orlando as I am, and presented for his Monday meeting with tears in his eyes.
For his hearing, Haroon is given a government representative to advocate for and advise him. A board of six other government representatives sits on the other side of a screen beamed in from Washington D.C. — we are all highly educated, white, Americans.
When I met Haroon three days ago, I asked him to trust me — and to trust the human rights organization I work for, Reprieve. The question echoed in my head and I suppressed a sad laugh. Those with a power and privilege that Haroon will never know see American justice as something that is a world apart from what he lives today.
In the US, white collars with American passports sit in boardrooms with their in-house attorneys for months, debating the admissibility of evidence against them.
Today at Guantanamo, Haroon will not be allowed to see the evidence against him. According to precedent, this board can hold its findings against him without ever asking him if the information is true.
The right to your own defense. The right to confront the evident against you. The right to counsel. The right to due process…. nine years later.
As we prepare for a new administration, I am flatly terrified of what will become of Haroon and the others like him — those waiting for American justice to mean what it does for the rest of us.