Justice delayed is justice denied

Our post title, widely attributable to William Gladstone (though some say to William Penn) takes on a special resonance today, as in the Guantanamo litigation, which, after some men have been in what has been determined to be unlawful American detention for nearly seven years, the very, very first GTMO detainees released pursuant to court order (a pathetic total of three men) reached their home country of Bosnia. To be honest, I write this post more in sorrow than in anger.
As the Bush Administration comes to an end, only the most hardened dead enders have anything to say in its defense; among those hardened dead enders include one very loathsome man, whose Wall Street Journal choses to offend our sensibilities by lamenting that lawyers defending Guantanamo detainees are “the latest in radical chic” and decrying that, for some reason, top legal talent just hasn’t sided with those poor, overmatched rubes at the dear old Dept. of Justice.
The implication is that somehow this is all some kind of sporting event, and notwithstanding Rupert’s long-running applause when Monica Goodling and company packed the DOJ with Christianist soldier-bots long on right-wing ideology and short on legal talent and thereby lowered the overall quality of the team… that somehow, the merits of the actual litigations are of no moment. Regular readers well know from reading this blog (because here we cut through the bullshit and talk to the people who have been there, lawyers, soldiers, human rights workers, journalists and former detainees) that no matter what crap is spun by the Bush Administration, almost none of the men still held were (1) members of al Qaeda, (2) members of the Taliban, (3) in any way connected to terrorism or hostilities against the United States, or (4) captured on the battlefield. Most (not all… but almost all) of the GTMO detainees were basically poor schmucks handed over for bounties, and mostly not even in Afghanistan. And we have had nothing but ersatz “legal process” for the sole purpose of playing legalistic games to justify holding them. And many, if not most, have been seriously abused, if not tortured (and holding them in solitary, as most have been, for this long, is itself torture.)
All the lawyers– and the civilians have by and large been working pro bono on this– have been working out of the highest principle of the legal profession. The fact is, those who are the most reviled and accused of the most heinous acts are those most in desperate need of representation to insure that they are treated fairly by the system. And fair treatment– not coddling or leniency– but due process, justice… BASIC FAIRNESS– a legitimate court hearing– is all that has ever been sought. And even this seems to much for the Bush Administration, Rupert or the WSJ.
I began my career in the very same Department of Justice that is supposedly so overmatched; let me just say that government lawyers take a certain pride in what they do. In my day, the pride was because it wasn’t a game: we were acting to uphold the law, to do things not because they advanced the agenda of a party or a politician, but because they were right, even if we did not ultimately “win”.
In my limited direct exposure to these matters in the course of rendering the little assistance I can to my friend Candace, I have seen little evidence of this. I have seen lots of double-talk and game playing… but little “justice” coming from the department of that name.
In any event, at the end of the day, all lawyers do is advocate a position. In the end, while we like to think our skills matter… the actual legal positions matter too. The Government has now lost three major Supreme Court cases in this area because its position is wrong, and anathema to our Constitution. The Government has finally started losing at the District Court level in these habeas cases (after years of playing every game imaginable to avoid getting there) because these men have been held illegally. Brilliant corporate lawyers writing briefs supporting the government won’t change this. Rupert and his minions won’t change this. Finally, our courts are working, actually following our law and our Constitution. Despite their best efforts, again, it seems that Rupert and his minions can’t change this either (for which we can all be grateful).
Maybe this darkest period in our history– when our nation’s very soul has been compromised by men whose own souls were at best compromised– is beginning to lighten up. Or so we can hope. It’s far, far too late, of course. But it’s not nothing. And for this, again… we can be grateful. Godspeed to the men who have finally made it home after years of the hell our nation has put them through. Godspeed to the rest, who may yet get their day in court soon. Far too long in coming… but a day they richly deserve, once and for all.