Edmund Burke

As part of a nationwide pro bono initiative, this Honolulu civil attorney represents a detainee held at Guantanamo Bay for the past five years.


Photo by David Croxford

As Told to Ronna Bolante

When I first met my client two years ago, I thought, now there's a terrorist right out of central casting. He has bushy black hair, a beard that covers most of his face and penetrating eyes. He's in his mid-30s now, born and raised in Libya. He was taken into custody in 2002.

I just returned from my fourth visit to Guantanamo. We're allowed two days with our client each visit. We're usually in a very small interview room, and the government tells us it's videoing us for our protection. The client is shackled to the floor with an eyebolt. If you make notes, you have to turn them in to your military escort. The notes are sent to Washington, D.C., where government people determine whether the material should be classified. There's no such thing as attorney-client confidentiality.

It's still so ill defined as to any legitimate reason to have him there to begin with, let alone confined for five-and-a-half years. We're seeking a day in court to make that determination. Guantanamo is an American naval base. The people there are entitled to American constitutional protections, including due process and the right of habeas corpus, which means, "Try me, convict me or set me free." We have accomplished nothing toward that end. I can't think of another example in American history of us treating people like this.

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Honolulu Magazine April 2017
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