Candace writes to me from Tbilisi, Georgia, and passes along this press release from the United States Department of Justice, advising that three Guantanamo detainees have been released to the Republic of Georgia, pursuant to agreement between the United States and Georgian governments.
Candace has asked me to tell you that one of those released is none other than her client, Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi.
From time to time, I have let you in on Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s saga. He is a Libyan national almost exactly my age, who was just trying to live a quiet life as a baker in Afghanistan with his wife and young daughter, who found himself handed over to the Northern Alliance for a bounty along with every other nearby Arab shortly after the United States began bombing his adopted country in 2001. He was then handed off to the American forces who did with him what they did to every other Arab handed over to them in Afghanistan: transferred him to Guantanamo without a second thought… no reason, just policy. And indeed, the world forgot about him for years, until the Supreme Court’s 2004 Rasul decision suddenly required “a legal process” for determining if men at Guantanamo were properly held. And the legal process– called a “combatant status review tribunal,” or “CSRT” which included a courageous officer named Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham (interviewed by me here) determined, unsurprisingly, that Al-Ghizzawi had no connection to terrorism and hence, was “not an unlawful enemy combatant.” Notwithstanding this, the Defense Department decided to call a “do-over,” and a second panel, on identical “evidence,” concluded that Al-Ghizzawi was an “EC” after all. Col. Abraham went on to blow the whistle on the flaws in the CSRT process, which is widely credited with convincing the Supreme Court to grant the almost never granted: a motion to reargue in the Boumediene case.
In the meantime, Al-Ghizzawi languished at Guantanamo, and languished… as he has for the last eight years. And while he languished, his health deteriorated– he suffered tuberculosis and liver disease, and at one point, was told by the military that he had AIDS… and then, when Candace brought a motion to demand access to his medical records… he was promptly told that he didn’t have AIDS after all. His eyesight has deteriorated. We won’t even talk about the mental state of a man cut off from his family–indeed, from all humanity as most of his confinement was in solitary confinement, in the company only of guards and interrogators.
Shortly after the Rasul case, when the Center for Constitutional Rights was arranging to obtain pro bono counsel for the detainees, Candace, a civil rights practitioner in Chicago, answered the call, and was eventually assigned the representation of two men at Guantanamo. Candace has been characterized as “the feistiest” of Guantanamo habeas lawyers, and I can tell you that her tireless has representation has gotten the Government’s attention. From time to time, after my interview with her in 2007, Candace asked me for my suggestions to her publicly filed legal papers… so let’s just say that, at this point, Al-Ghizzawi’s cause is near and dear to my heart.
While many will celebrate the passage of a dubious “health care reform” package, I will celebrate this long overdue event… it only took over eight years, and brilliant and tenacious legal work by Candace, but this day has finally come for Mr. Al-Ghizzawi. Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! Allah be praised, and Godspeed to Mr. Al-Ghizzawi.
You’ll excuse me, while I go cry now.