Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ellen Lubell - a decent human being

Faced with all the daily crap it is sometimes easy to forget that the world is full of very decent human beings. The Talking Dog interviewed Ellen Lubell, the lawyer for one of the Guantanamo detainees (h/t Pulse). Ms Lubell represents Abdul Aziz Naji, an Algerian National.

Ellen Lubell: Our client, Abdul Aziz Naji, is from Algeria. His family is there and we’ve spoken with them a number of times. Aziz is 34 and he has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for nearly eight years. He’s very likeable. He is an observant Muslim. Despite having attended school only through the sixth grade, he is bright, insightful, and has an excellent memory. He readily expresses his feelings and views on issues. He is extremely appreciative of our efforts on his case and lets us know this frequently. He loves children and very much wants go get married and have his own.

When Aziz was living in Algeria, around the time he was 17 or 18, he and his brother were attacked by a group of terrorists. After that, his brother left the country and so did Aziz, after completing his required military service. He went first to Mecca on a pilgrimage, and then traveled to Pakistan to perform "zakat"- charitable work – as is required of observant Muslims. Aziz worked for a charitable organization in the mountains of Kashmir for only a few months when he accidently stepped on one of the many landmines still buried left in this war-torn region. The explosion blew off the lower half of his right leg. He was taken to a hospital in Lahore, where he was treated, and over the course of a year received rehabilitation and a prosthetic leg. He decided then that he would try to find a wife. He was directed by friends to another Algerian man living in Peshawar, who was known to be helpful in arranging marriages. Aziz visited the man and while he was there, the man’s house was raided by the Pakistani police. The raid may have been the result of the bounties that were offered by the US at the time to local people if they identified possible “terrorists” among them. The Pakistanis interrogated Aziz, concluded that he had done nothing wrong, and told him they would release him. Instead, they turned him over to the Americans. Aziz was taken to the US prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, where he was tortured, and then on to Guantanamo.

When we took Aziz’s case, we were provided a file from the U.S. Department of Defense that included a list of allegations against him, with alleged “confessions.” None of the allegations or confessions was backed by any credible evidence. Ultimately, our view that the U.S. had no case against Aziz was validated by the Obama Administration, which cleared him in June 2009.
Though cleared he is still in Guantanamo. Lubell provides a summary of the various twists and turns of the case in the interview. The interview is well worth reading. What especially touched me was her response to the question about how she got involved in the case.
The Talking Dog: How did you first get involved in Guantanamo representation, and how has it effected your legal practice or your life in general?

Ellen Lubell: In 2006, after the media reported that three of the detainees had committed suicide, my partner Doris and I decided as a matter of conscience that we had to do something. Neither of us is a constitutional lawyer or even a litigator, but we were encouraged by colleagues at WilmerHale, who had already gotten involved in representing a group of detainees, to contact CCR and inquire about being assigned a client. We did so, and CCR explained that although representing a detainee would be very expensive (aside from our time), there would be a great deal of support available to us from our fellow attorneys. We decided to forge ahead and were assigned a client by CCR.

I’ve been changed in many ways by the experience. I’ve been privileged to work with some of the most amazing lawyers in the country. I’ve had to become conversant with areas of law that are entirely new for me – constitutional law, federal court procedure, international law, and asylum law. I no longer keep my political opinions to myself. I no longer look at problems around me and think someone else will fix them. I’ve become terribly skeptical of everything I read in the newspaper. Most importantly, I’ve been changed by getting to know our client and his family. While it’s easy to see all the ways the life of a Jewish woman from Newton with a law degree differs from that of a young Muslim man from Algeria with only a primary school education, we’ve discovered so many things we have in common. We’ve been able to enjoy each other’s company, disagree and laugh, and trust each other. Despite the struggle, this is something I will value forever.

Brightens your day to know people like her exist. The Talking Dog has interviews with many people dealing with the legal aspects on The War Against Terror.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Suicide Terrorism and Lung Cancer

Robert Pape of the University of Chicago and author of "Dying to Win - The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism" gave a talk on the subject and its implications for the US occupation of Afghanistan. He repeats his basic thesis that the central objective of suicide terrorism is to force occupying armies to withdraw from the territories they occupy and backs it up with lots and lots of data. This motivation is as secular as you can get - no 72 virgins involved. He points out that prior to the US invasion of Iraq the biggest group of suicide attacks were conducted by the Tamil Tigers, a Marxist-Leninist/Hindu group, and even among Muslim groups 30% of the attacks were carried out by secular groups such as the PKK. His problem with people associating suicide terrorism with religion - mostly Islam - is that he feels that these misperceptions are "encouraging domestic and foreign policies likely to worsen our situation". One may not agree with all he says but much of what he says is very instructive.