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Weekend in Camp Justice

Ben Wizner,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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August 4, 2008

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

On Friday, Hamdan’s lawyers wrapped up their defense with dramatic written testimony from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the essence of which was that Hamdan — as the evidence had already demonstrated — was a menial figure in the Al Qaeda universe. The day before, all trial observers without top-level security clearances had been excluded from the courtroom for the testimony of two defense witnesses, so it is conceivable (though highly unlikely — these were defense witnesses, after all) that a verdict could be returned on the basis of evidence that the world will never see.

Judge Allred adjourned the trial until Monday morning, when closing arguments will be delivered by both sides. Meaning: we had the weekend off.

I bumped into most of the defense team in the laundry tent — a gathering point for the overworked and underpacked residents of Camp Justice. And Saturday seemed like a good day for a haircut. Our superb and soulful military escort suggested we stop by a corrugated metal shack where Cuban migrants who were picked up en route to Florida operate a makeshift woodworking and barbershop. There were certain departures from what I would call ordinary barbershop procedure. For example, there were no mirrors. On the other hand, there was plenty of ice cold Modelo with lime. Others can judge the results.

We visited the base’s library for the first time, and I selected from the “free” pile a promising pulp mystery called Deadly Beloved. (Opening line: “The woman in the skimpy black bikini on the perfect beach on the too perfect day was me.”) I bought a camera and a Coast Guard T-shirt (“Patrolling Castro’s Backyard”).

On Saturday night, the base’s many Jamaican workers celebrated Jamaican Independence Day with a cultural exposition and party, with dance troupes and a reggae band flown in from the island, and vats of jerk chicken and curried goat. We shared a picnic table with a sailor and a contractor onshore from a Navy destroyer, and they asked what I was doing on the base. The contractor had never heard of the ACLU, prompting the sailor to look at her quizzically and say: “Have you heard of the Dallas Cowboys?” I’m not a Cowboys fan, but I’ve always thought of the ACLU as America’s Team.

The word “Guantánamo” has become so synonymous with indefinite detention and coercive interrogation that many Americans are unaware of the culturally diverse community that supports — some might even say “materially supports” — the military mission here. This weekend, I was immensely grateful for their presence and their generosity.

On Monday, the trial will conclude with closing statements from the prosecution and defense, after which the military officers who comprise the “commission” will withdraw to deliberate. There will be little suspense — not only because Hamdan will likely not be acquitted, but because, in the twisted world of Guantánamo detention, even acquittal would not lead to release. It is not the jury that will determine Hamdan’s fate, but the nation. Perhaps, when all is said and done, Hamdan’s embarrassing trial will accelerate Guantánamo’s inevitable endgame.

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