The Guantanamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law


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Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States imprisoned more than seven hundred and fifty men at its naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. These men, ranging from teenage boys to men in their eighties from over forty different countries, were detained for years without charges, trial, and a fair hearing. Without any ...

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Read free excerpts from the book at and explore the complete archive of narratives at

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States imprisoned more than seven hundred and fifty men at its naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. These men, ranging from teenage boys to men in their eighties from over forty different countries, were detained for years without charges, trial, and a fair hearing. Without any legal status or protection, they were truly outside the law: imprisoned in secret, denied communication with their families, and subjected to extreme isolation, physical and mental abuse, and, in some instances, torture.

These are the detainees’ stories, told by their lawyers because the prisoners themselves were silenced. It took habeas counsel more than two years—and a ruling from the United States Supreme Court—to finally gain the right to visit and talk to their clients at Guantánamo. Even then, lawyers were forced to operate under severe restrictions designed to inhibit communication and envelop the prison in secrecy. In time, however, lawyers were able to meet with their clients and bring the truth about Guantánamo to the world.

The Guantánamo Lawyers contains over one hundred personal narratives from attorneys who have represented detainees held at “GTMO” as well as at other overseas prisons, from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to secret CIA jails or “black sites.” Mark Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz—themselves lawyers for detainees—collected stories that cover virtually every facet of Guantánamo, and the litigation it sparked. Together, these moving, powerful voices create a historical record of Guantánamo’s legal, human, and moral failings, and provide a window into America’s catastrophic effort to create a prison beyond the law.

An online archive, hosted by New York University Libraries, will be available at the time of publication and will contain the complete texts as well as other accounts contributed by Guantánamo lawyers. The documents will be freely available on the Internet for research, teaching, and non-commercial uses, and will be preserved indefinitely as a historical collection.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In this admirable compliation, Mark P. Denbeaux, a professor at Seaton hall University School of Law and Jonathan Hafetz, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Security Project, have explored one of this generation’s great moral questions by assembling first-person reports from over 100 attourneys who represent prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.”
-New York Law Journal


“[M]akes for gripping if somber reading. . .They have produced a book that will make other lawyers vicariously proud.”


The Guantánamo Lawyers is a powerful and important book. These first-hand accounts strip way much of the veneer that has encased tepid and lifeless news stories of what has happened at Guantanamo and elsewhere. This behind-the-scenes look at these brave lawyers and abused detainees is fascinating and revealing.”



“Provides an invaluable perspective—or more accurately, perspectives, since more than one hundred lawyers contributed to the volume. These men and women, all working for nothing, have gained intimate access to those whom the United States sought to keep hidden behind strictly closed doors….The stories these lawyers have been able to tell, adroitly edited by Mark Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz, offer a multifaceted portrait of life on the base.

-New York Review of Books


“The most compelling reason to read is that the legal questions created by Guantanamo have not yet been fully resolved. President Obama’s promise to close the prison has so far gone unfulfilled, and John Paul Stevens, who will perhaps be remembered more for his writings on Guantanamo than any other subject, will leave the Court at the end of this term. No matter how the Guantanamo question is resolved, historians will no doubt benefit from Denbeaux and Hafetz’s excellent book.”-Tyler D. Helmond, in The Champion (NACDL),

Publishers Weekly
This collection of stirring narrative, government data and testimony, edited by two of the lawyers for those detained by the Bush administration as unlawful combatants at Guantánamo, puts America on notice about the issues of civil liberties and constitutional freedoms. Denbeaux and Hafetz have edited together accounts from 100 other detainee advocates into a chronological narrative of legal battles: to gain access to their clients, to establish the detainees' right to habeas corpus, to describe the occupants of “Gitmo” (at its peak, 750 from 40 countries) and the torture and mistreatment of detainees. They describe their clients as underlings, working stiffs and not the high officials of any terrorist group. Plowing through legal red tape, bureaucratic mumbo jumbo and political maneuvering, Denbeaux and Hafetz fight for the men who are isolated without diversions or outside contact. The desperate words, quoted here, of Gitmo detainees on torture grab the heart and do not let go. This compelling book on the American penal colony and its residents is a cautionary tale of overzealous executive wartime power and the awful mess it sometimes leaves behind. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
First-person accounts by the attorneys representing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Following the U.S. response to the attacks of 9/11, the Bush administration chose the naval base at Guantanamo to house the "worst of the worst" prisoners, as Donald Rumsfeld put it. (See Karen Greenberg's recent The Least Worst Place for an account of the detention regime's early history.) There, more than 750 men remained for years, their identities kept secret, without legal status, charges or trial. From the detention of these so-called "enemy combatants" arose Rasul v. Bush, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and Boumediene v. Bush, three landmark Supreme Court cases stating that the prisoners had a "right to challenge their detention through habeas corpus." Denbeaux (Law/Seton Hall Univ.) and ACLU lawyer Hafetz gather statements, anecdotes and reminiscences from the volunteer lawyers who took on this unpopular cause. The material is divided into a number of parts: how the lawyers first got involved and made their way to the island; the conditions they encountered as they met with their clients; the mistreatment (either observed or reported) of the detainees; the legal battles they fought and the alternative forms of advocacy they adopted-lobbying Congress, speaking before community groups, writing for the press-to expose the prisoners' plight; the eventual release of some detainees; and the replication of Guantanamo's conditions at various "black sites" around the globe. Most interesting are the special problems faced by female attorneys representing Muslim clients, the numerous tales of willful obstruction and absurd red tape imposed by the government and the military and the background stories of some of thedetainees. Some readers will be put off the frequently self-congratulatory tone of the attorneys, their almost unanimous claims of their clients' innocence, their seeming obliviousness to the difficult legal questions the terror war poses and their condescension, even occasionally to the detainees. Others will see them as they see themselves: heroes protecting the U.S. Constitution. A valuable contribution to the record of an unfinished story bound to reverberate for years to come.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814737361
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 11/9/2009
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Denbeaux is a professor at Seton Hall Law School, where he also directs the Center for Policy and Research.

Jonathan Hafetz is Associate Professor at Seton Hall Law School and has litigated numerous landmark habeas corpus detention cases. He also is the co-editor (with Mark Denbeaux) of The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law (NYU Press, 2009).

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Table of Contents

Mark P. Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz
1 Representing the “Worst of the Worst”
How and Why the Lawyers Started Representing Detainees
2 Getting behind the Wire
Rasul/Al Odah: The Right to Representation
3 Uncovering Guantánamo’s Human Face
First Impressions
Rendered: How the Detainees Got to Guantánamo
Female Attorneys
Family Members
4 Red Tape and Kangaroo Courts
Barriers to Representation
The No-Hearing Hearings: Combatant Status Review Tribunals
Military Commissions
Political Maneuvering
Boumediene v. Bush: The Death Knell for Prisons beyond the Law
5 Tortured
A Product of Torture Culture
Hunger Strikes
6 Alternative Forms of Advocacy
7 Leaving Guantánamo
Stuck in Limbo
Out but Not Free
Happy Endings?
8 Guantánamo beyond Cuba: A Global Detention System outside the Law
Guantánamo Comes to America
Black Sites
Timeline: Guantánamo and the “War on Terror”
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