Yale Law Students in the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic have obtained hands-on legal experience in recent months, helping to write amicus briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with the detainment of foreign nationals in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Under the supervision of Yale international law professor Harold Koh, who was recently selected to be the next dean of the Law School, the students have written and will continue to write briefs on cases dealing with similar post-Sept. 11 detainment policies of President George W. Bush ’68.
New Haven attorney Jonathan Freiman LAW ’97, a supervisor of the clinic, said the law students were working on a brief in the Guantanamo Bay cases Shafiq Rasul v. George W. Bush and Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad Al Odah v. United States on behalf of groups supporting the prisoners’ appeal.
“We received a call asking us to put together a brief representing a diverse coalition of groups from across the political spectrum, to make the argument that there are no lands without law or human rights,” Freiman said.
Mary Hahn LAW ’01, a fellow at the Law School who is also supervising the clinic, said the primary question the students are dealing with in the cases is whether or not the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over prisoners in a military base in Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. government has leased Guantanamo Bay from Cuba since 1903.
“The basic issue is, ‘Is Guantanamo Bay an American territory?’” Hahn said.
Hahn said the clinic would not reveal the members of the coalition until the coalition files its next brief, due to attorney-client privilege.
The students have already written briefs for groups who successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the cases.
Freiman said the students were also preparing a brief to be filed by Wednesday in support of a writ of certiorari for Yaser Esam Hamdi. Hamdi, an American citizen who was captured in Afghanistan, has been held prisoner in a military brig in South Carolina since April 2002 without an attorney or a stated conviction and is appealing the legality of his detention.
Steve Vladeck LAW ’04, a student director of the clinic, said the issues at stake were personal for many of the law students involved. Vladeck said the Sept. 11 attacks occurred during his second day of classes at Yale Law.
“It’s hard to be a law student in today’s environment and not be intrigued and motivated by these issues,” Vladeck said. “They’re so unique, so novel, that any law student would find something compelling about them.”
Vladeck said the coalition the students are working for will file the Guantanamo Bay brief by late December or early January. He said he thinks the brief will present a solid case in favor of the prisoners’ appeal.
“I think it says something in itself that the [Supreme] Court took the case,” Vladeck said. “I think this Court is going to be bothered by the idea that the government can hold detainee out of its process.”
Freiman said he thought it was unlikely that the government’s case would prevail.
“I think the court will hesitate for a long time before deciding there are whole swaths of land the executive has [sole jurisdiction over],” Freiman said.
The U.S. Department of Defense recently announced that it was negotiating to release as many as 100 of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay to their home countries. But over 550 foreign nationals will remain under U.S. detention at the base.