Director, International Human Rights Law Clinic, American University,
Washington College of Law
Guantanamo and the Nation’s Narrative: From Enemy Combatants to Lawfare
This presentation will explore the unique, complex and sometimes puzzling language and culture of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and its contribution to our understanding of war and the rule of law since it began operations in early 2002. This talk presents the perspective of a lawyer and law professor who has has visited and worked with detainee clients at Guantanamo regularly since 2004.
The War on Terror has yielded a number of questions regarding the law and conduct of war. One of the more contentious debates concerns the detention and treatment of those captured during these hostilities. The Geneva Conventions defines POWs and affords them certain rights. However, the Bush Administration has determined that those captured in the War on Terror do not fit this definition or the Conventions do not apply, and have therefore withheld these rights from detainees. As a result, detainees who deny ever fighting against the United States have been detained incommunicado for years at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. To challenge their detention, such detainees have turned to the United States’s own legal system invoking the right of habeas corpus. This right gives prisoners the ability to force the government to justify their detention before an impartial judge. Since 2004 the Supreme Court decided a number of these habeas cases, including Boumediene v. Bush this past June. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo are entitled to seek habeas relief in federal district courts and the alternative form of review provided by Congress was inadequate.
About the Speaker
Professor Rick Wilson is the founding director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law. Since 1990, this clinic has regularly litigated cases involving transnational and international criminal law and procedure in domestic and international courts or tribunals. In addition, he is a director for the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, as well as a professor of law at American University. Professor Wilson is also President of the Board of Directors of the World Organization for Human Rights, USA. He has represented three detainees held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which he has visited numerous times. He appeared as an expert witness for the defense in the capital trial of Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the convicted Washington snipers. He also authored the brief for the European Union and 24 other countries in the Supreme Court’s case striking down the death penalty for juveniles. Professor Wilson is a graduate of DePauw University and the College of Law of the University of Illinois. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Panama.