THE DEFENSE WILL NOT REST

Two U.S. military officers are jeopardizing their careers to protect the legal rights of those held at Guantánamo Bay. The way they see it, justice should be blind—for everyone

William Kuebler, a navy lieutenant with clippered hair and a round face, sat in his crisp summer whites at a heavy wooden table in the courtroom at Guantánamo Bay. To his left, at the other end of the table, was a young Saudi named Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi, who was reputed to be one of the most dangerous terrorists on the planet. Al Sharbi was about to be tried for war crimes, and Kuebler was supposed to defend him.

The problem was, al Sharbi did not want to be defended. Kuebler knew that, of course: Al Sharbi had refused to even meet with him for the past five months, finally acquiescing only four days earlier and then only long enough to tell Kuebler to go away. And really, who could blame him?

By April 2006, al Sharbi had already been locked up for almost four years at Guantánamo, where the military had declared him an “enemy combatant.” President Bush had claimed the authority to continue holding him—along with hundreds of men already in custody, as well as any other foreign national he might decide was an enemy combatant—until the end of the war on terror, a sentence that worked out to somewhere between indefinite and forever. His cell was eight feet long and not quite seven feet wide, with a bunk and a sink and, on the floor, a hole for a toilet and a painted arrow pointing toward Mecca. The lights were kept on around the clock, and he was allowed out only in shackles to shower and exercise for a half hour a few days a week. Al Sharbi had also almost certainly been subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” some of which until recently were considered torture and, according to the State Department, still are when practiced by Iran, Libya, Turkey, or any of a dozen other countries.

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Photo: Photograph by Gillian Laub
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