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At Guantánamo, Iguanas Have Rights. Detainees, Not So Much.

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May 28, 2008

Upon returning from his last trip to Guantánamo, Jamil Dakwar told us that iguanas are a protected species there. We were incredulous, but it turns out, it’s no joke;

as the AP reported back in December:

U.S. law protects endangered iguanas on the naval base, but the Supreme Court is struggling to determine whether it also applies to the 305 men imprisoned there.

The San Diego Zoo even had a team there to study the Cuban rock iguanas back in 2001. The irony hasn’t escaped the detainees there. In a chat session with Amnesty International, former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg said:

According to the US admin, “Geneva Conventions” do not apply; US law does not apply, US Code of Military Justice does not apply, International [law] does not apply. Even the iguanas on Gitmo are protected by laws. Not so the detainees…

The attorneys who represent those detainees have also noted it:

Tom Wilner, an attorney who represents detainees, said his team has raised the iguana issue in briefs to the Supreme Court.”Anyone, including a federal official, who violates the Endangered Species Act by harming an iguana at (Guantánamo), can be fined and prosecuted,” Wilner said. “Yet the government argues that U.S. law does not apply to protect the human prisoners there. … Pretty absurd.”

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver a decision in Boumediene v. Bush before the end of June. At issue in Boumediene is whether Guantánamo detainees can use habeas corpus to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. A decision is expected by the end of June. Let’s hope the nine justices find that the men at Guantánamo have at least as much protection under the law as the iguanas.