In late 2006, attorney Zachary Katznelson '95 flew to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba to meet with his new client, Mohammed el Gharani. Like the other several hundred foreigners the U.S. military was holding at the camp, which is at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Gharani was accused of trying to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Also like them, he had been declared an "unlawful enemy combatant" by the Bush administration, meaning he had no rights under the U.S. Constitution. Unlawful enemy combatants, for example, could not see the evidence against them. They were unable to challenge their detention in civilian courts. But Gharani was different from his fellow inmates in one major respect—he'd been brought to the prison in early 2002 at the age of 15. He was now one of the youngest of the Guantánamo detainees.

Phil Sharp
Zachary Katznelson battled the Bush and Obama administrations on behalf of more than thirty Guantanamo inmates. 
The meeting took place inside a small, windowless plywood hut that also served as an interrogation room. As was common practice, one of Gharani's feet was shackled to a metal grommet bolted into the floor. Guards had brought him to the hut several hours before his appointment with Katznelson and had left him to wait alone. But to Gharani this was at least a change in routine, a break from the twenty-two hours he was confined alone in his cell each day since he'd first been detained five years earlier.

When he entered the room, Katznelson saw a large bruise on Gharani's face. He had been quiet and depressed since Katznelson had met him a few months earlier, but he now told Katznelson that the bruise was a result of his attempt to commit suicide. He'd run headfirst into his cell wall. This was by no means an effective method of killing himself, but Gharani had become convinced that he would never leave Guantánamo, and he was desperate to put an end to his loneliness and suffering.

Katznelson, who heads the legal affairs division at the London-based human-rights group Reprieve, had grown to like Gharani. The boy claimed he was innocent—he said he'd been studying religion in Pakistan, not fighting the U.S. military—and Katznelson had come to believe him. The two developed a rapport. They chatted about World Cup soccer and about Gharani's family back in his native country of Chad. To Katznelson's surprise, they had achieved a kind of mutual empathy over religion. Although Katznelson was a Jew and Gharani a devout Muslim, Katznelson says that Gharani, "respected someone who has faith and believes in God. To him, they were both Abrahamic religions."

Brennan Linsley/AFP/Getty Images
Leg shackles on the floor of the Camp 6 detention center. 
With Gharani cut off from the outside world since his arrival in Cuba, it fell to Katznelson to guide and mentor him. Katznelson tried to offer Gharani whatever comfort he could. "It's one of the most challenging things to do," Katznelson says. "You want to give someone hope, but if you give too much hope, it makes things worse." He emphasized to Gharani how much the boy's family wanted to see him come back to them. He told him not to lose faith. These efforts helped comfort Gharani for a time, but there would be two more suicide attempts to come.

Katznelson is one of the several Brown alumni who have volunteered to work on behalf of Guantánamo detainees. Among the others are Terry Walsh '65, Neil McGaraghan '91, David Cynamon '70, Sarah Havens '99, and Rick Murphy '70, who are all lawyers based at different firms around the United States. Together they have been on the front lines, battling both the Bush and Obama administrations for their clients' release.

These alumni have immersed themselves in one of the most important legal battles in U.S. history. They are challenging the federal government's claim that Guantánamo's prisoners should not be protected under the usual laws safeguarding basic human rights in both the United States and the world: the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. "I think it's an understatement to say that this was one of the biggest cases I've ever been involved in," says the Boston-based McGaraghan.

At Brown, Katznelson concentrated both in history and in public policy and American institutions. He arned a law degree from New York University, then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to work for two nonprofit organizations, the Prison Law Office (a prisoner-rights group) and the California Habeas Project (which defends domestic-violence victims imprisoned for crimes they commit against their abusers). In August 2005, he moved to London, where he signed up as a volunteer for Reprieve. Within six months, Reprieve had hired him, and two years later he was made head of the division that has since represented more than seventy prisoners held at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, where the U.S. government still holds more than 200 alleged enemy combatants.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Interrogation room, Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo. 
When they first met in the summer of 2006, Katznelson gave his new client his pitch: it was his goal, he told Gharani, "to humanize people at Guantánamo in the eyes of the outside world. They were being demonized, and that wasn't the reality." As the pair worked together, the detainee began opening up to the lawyer. Katznelson discovered that Gharani had a well-developed sense of humor and liked to crack jokes. The guards had nicknamed him Chris Tucker, after the comedian.

Katznelson says he also wanted to show the world "how these cases were so much more about politics than about the law, and to educate people about the truth about Guantánamo." Gharani claimed to have been tortured there. He described beatings by guards who also subjected him to racial slurs. He said he was put though the "frequent-flyer program," a sleep deprivation technique in which a detainee was moved to a different cell every few hours for several days.

Katznelson suspected Gharani was telling the truth, but he had no way of verifying it. Then, in 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report confirming that Gharani had been subject to sleep deprivation. It also said he'd been "short-chained" for three to four hours in his cell, which involved shackling him to the floor with a chain only long enough for him to stand uncomfortably hunched over. Gharani was not released for a bathroom break and, according to the report, was left to urinate on himself.

Shortly after meeting Gharani, Katznelson flew to Chad to meet with his family. Gharani's relatives had had no contact with him, and he had heard nothing from them. Katznelson became a go-between. Gharani's family lived in the capital, N'Djamena. "Every night more and more family members would come in from the countryside just to meet us and pass their love on to Mohammed," says Katznelson. "They wanted to hear the news."

On the last day of Katznelson's weeklong trip, the family threw a party at a hotel outside the city. Blankets were laid out along the banks of a river and the men—women weren't invited—ate a meal of lamb, fish, rice, and vegetables. The guests, all relatives of Gharani, ranged from poor farmers to tribal chiefs and a university professor. Katznelson made sure to take a lot of photos, and when he showed them to Gharani at Guantánamo, the bond between them deepened.

D. A. Peterson
David Cynamon may have prevented Guantanamo inmates from losing a major case before the U.S. Supreme Court. 
David Cynamon '70 is a tall, thin man with a fringe of graying hair. An international-relations concentrator at Brown, he earned his law degree from Harvard in 1973, then began practicing corporate law. He also did a great deal of pro bono work on the side, representing veterans who said the military had exposed them to toxic levels of radiation, for example, and African American workers who claimed that the chain store Circuit City had discriminated against them. Then he started taking on Guantánamo cases.

In person, Cynamon is affable and easygoing, but his Guantánamo cases brought out the fighter in him. He once tried to give a client there a picture of his four-year-old nephew back in Kuwait. The military insisted he first hand it over to them for inspection, but three months later officials still had not given it to his client. "I basically told them this is beyond outrageous," Cynamon says. "This picture should take someone ten seconds to review." The military was not moved. Then Cynamon threatened to haul everyone into court and get a judge to order the photograph delivered. His client soon received the photo.

All Cynamon's Guantánamo clients were Kuwaiti. He got involved with them in 2006, when a Kuwaiti lawyer who was a friend of a friend asked if Cynamon would be willing to meet with the relatives of some Guantánamo prisoners. When Cynamon met with them, they asked if he would represent their loved ones. Cynamon agreed. He says he wanted to work on "cutting-edge constitutional litigation."

In the spring of 2007, Cynamon, who lives in Maryland, sent out an e-mail to colleagues at his D.C. law firm, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, informing them about an in-house talk on Guantánamo he was scheduled to give. It was to be a basic update, Cynamon recalls, aimed at filling everyone in on the progress of his work and offering thumbnail sketches of a few of his clients. The other lawyers at the firm were keenly interested. A colleague e-mailed him, saying she was very much looking forward to his presentation because she had a brother who was prosecuting inmates in Guantánamo. Cynamon instantly e-mailed back, "My God, do you think he'd be willing to talk to me?" She said she'd ask him.

Her brother turned out to be Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Abraham, one of the lawyers prosecuting Guantánamo's inmates before the military tribunals set up to hear their cases. Cynamon asked Abraham to come forward and reveal what he knew about the detention center's trial system. Abraham was initially reluctant. But over several phone calls Cynamon persuaded Abraham to speak out. It wasn't all that difficult. Abraham had been deeply disturbed by what he'd witnessed at Guantánamo.

As it happened, the military-tribunal system was facing its greatest legal challenge yet. Civil-rights groups had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to strike down the 2006 Congressional law authorizing its creation. The civil-rights lawyers presented the same argument they'd used when the Guantánamo detention camp had opened in 2002: the inmates were in fact protected under the U.S. Constitution and therefore had the right to challenge their detentions in federal courts, not just military ones.

In April 2007, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, a major legal victory for the Bush administration. Nevertheless, at Cynamon's urging Abraham filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court, stating that the military tribunal system was unfair and biased. "What were purported to be specific statements of fact lacked even the most fundamental earmarks of objectively credible evidence," he affirmed. He described pressure from supervisors to reverse his decision after he determined there was no cause to classify an inmate as an enemy combatant. He described the personnel who were compiling the cases against defendants as "relatively junior officers with little training or experience in matters relating to the collection, processing, analyzing and/or dissemination of intelligence material."

A few weeks later, the Supreme Court did something it hadn't done in sixty years—it reversed itself and agreed to take on the Guantánamo appeals. Although the Court did not provide an explanation for its reversal, Cynamon believes that Abraham's testimony had a lot to do with it.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the military courts were unconstitutional. The decision was a rejection of the Bush administration's entire legal justification for the Guant√°namo detention facility. Connecting with Abraham, Cynamon says, was the "most marvelous example of serendipity I have ever had in my legal career."

Of the 779 prisoners who have passed through Guantánamo, only 223 remain. Most of the Brown alumni lawyers who have represented detainees have succeeded in getting some released. Other clients are still there.

Cynamon, for example, represented a client who successfully challenged his detention in federal court more than a year ago, yet he is still in Cuba. Cynamon claims it's now the Obama Justice Department that is delaying the release of an innocent man. "The Obama administration claims to have restored the rule of law," he says, "but in fact it is following the Bush playbook on Guantanámo to the letter."

Katznelson reports that in January, Gharani was ordered released after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the government had relied on testimony from two unreliable witnesses when it had declared him an enemy combatant.

After leaving Cuba, Gharani returned to Chad, where he was at first treated like a returning hero, Katznelson says. But now, for reasons that he doesn't understand, the government of Chad has yet to issue Gharani his identification papers, which means he is unable to work, travel, or enroll in school. Katznelson says a cloud of suspicion still hangs over Gharani. "He is not able to rebuild his life," Katznelson says. "He's trapped in a different kind of prison."

Lawrence Goodman is the BAM's senior writer.

Comments (9)
So inspiring - please keep up the very noble work you are doing.
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Made me cry (as most stories coming out of Guantánamo do). Thank you for all the hard work that you do.
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Learned today that Saeed Ali al-Shehri, a FORMER GITMO DETAINEE released by the Bush administration who returned to help lead al-Qaeda in Yemen, was killed in the same Predator strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki (the guy who recruited the Fort Hood murderer) and a total of 30 attendees of an AQ leadership meeting . 
Aren't you glad that Brown Alums are continuing to free these detainees? Maybe if they stopped and thought about what they were doing, the US Military would have to make fewer Predator drone stikes in Pakistan.
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Headlines from ABC Chicago station: 
Men believed behind airplane plot were freed from Gitmo 
December 28, 2009 
Two of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit were released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November, 2007, ABC News is reporting, quoting American officials and citing Department of Defense documents. 
American officials agreed to send the two terrorists to Saudi Arabia where they entered into an "art therapy rehabilitation program" and were set free, according to U.S. and Saudi officials, ABC News reported. 
Guantanamo prisoner #333, Muhamad Attik al-Harbi, and prisoner #372, Said Ali Shari, were sent to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 9, 2007, according to the Defense Department log of detainees who were released from American custody. Al-Harbi has since changed his name to Muhamad al-Awfi. 
Any comments from the Brown "Defenders"? 
The silence is deafening.
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Still waiting for a comment from the brave 'defenders'. 
How many of the GITMO detainees freed by Brown alums have returned to the fight and are now actively trying to kill Americans?  
C'mon - prove me wrong! 
Guess no one is reading this article...
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Below are some more reasons to be proud of our brave "defender" alumni. Why isn't this news being featured in a BAM story?  
From The Times of London 
January 5, 2010 
Freed Guantánamo inmates are heading for Yemen to join al-Qaeda fight 
At least a dozen former Guantánamo Bay inmates have rejoined al-Qaeda to fight in Yemen, The Times has learnt, amid growing concern over the ability of the country’s Government to accept almost 100 more former inmates from the detention centre. 
Six prisoners were returned to Yemen last month. After the Christmas Day bomb plot in Detroit, US officials are increasingly concerned that the country is becoming a hot-bed of terrorism.  
Eleven of the former inmates known to have rejoined al-Qaeda in Yemen were born in Saudi Arabia. The organisation merged its Saudi and Yemeni offshoots last year. 
A Yemeni, Hani Abdo Shaalan, who was released from Guantánamo in 2007, was killed in an airstrike on December 17, the Yemeni Government reported last week. The deputy head of al-Qaeda in the country is Said Ali al-Shihri, 36, who was released in 2007. Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish, who was released in 2006, is a prominent ideologue featured on Yemeni al-Qaeda websites. 
The US Government issued figures in May showing that 74 of the 530 detainees in Guantánamo were suspected or known to have returned to terrorist activity since their release. They included the commander of the Taleban in Helmand province, Mullah Zakir, whom the British Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, called “a key and seemingly effective tactical leader”. Among others who returned to terrorism was Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti who killed six Iraqis in Mosul in 2008.
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From the LA Times 
January 7, 2010 
More former Guantanamo detainees returning to militant activity, Pentagon says 
A new report estimates that 20% of the detainees who have been released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have resumed extremist activity, a Defense Department official said Wednesday. 
This figure is an increase from the previously released estimte of 14%, and intensifies the debate over the prison.
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I take issue with some of the comments above. 
I'm not sure the commenter read the same BAM article that I did. This one was about a 15-year-old boy imprisoned, without rights or evidence, and subject to physical mistreatment, for nearly a decade. We're fighting extremism abroad, yes, but should we become extrimists ourselves in pursuing that battle? What then are we defending? We should not condone illegal and ruthless activity, on our soil or elsewhere, and the ends cannot justify \"any means necessary.\" Otherwise, our own behavior will come back to haunt us, and we will simply create more enemies. As for alumni who choose to work as defense lawyers--whether for Gitmo detainees, public defender offices or private clients--they are serving a valuable role in our justice system. The fact that you or I might not have the commitment or impulse to defend those accused of crimes should not diminish that the accused have a right to counsel--and competent counsel--under U.S. law. It is one of the defining features of our civil society.
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You need to read "Gitmo's Indefensible Lawyers" which appears in the March 15, 2010 Wall St Journal. Lots of things these attorneys are doing go far beyond providing 'right to counsel' and in fact border on treason. Read the piece and decide for yourself. Are Brown grads involved? I certainly hope not. 
I'm sorry that *one* 15 year-old is having a tough time of it. I feel more empathy for the 10,000+ children who lost one or both parents in 9/11. 
Do these inmates deserve counsel? I don't know - they are not US citizens with Constitutional rights. What I do wonder about is why Brown grads are putting the needs of these detainees above the needs of US citizens whose lives were destroyed by terrorists - or did I miss the BAM article on Brown grads working to help this population?  
We have many features that 'define' our civil society - certainly protecting its ability to exist is also fairly high on the list?
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