My ex-wife, Doris Tennant-Moore, just returned from her second visit to Guantanamo, where she is representing Abdul Aziz Naji. To all appearances, he is one of the unluckiest of the unlucky, in contrast to his characterization by our government. It seems he was arbitrarily captured on the basis either of association with the wrong people or of being turned in for bounty. He claims never to have committed any kind of violence against any US citizen. I am writing this diary to inform, but also in hopes of attracting some emotional and financial support for Doris’ principled commitment to do all she can to represent one detainee and to fight our country's illegal and immoral conduct at Guantanamo.
Although she was already working absurd hours just to support herself, Doris felt compelled to do more than watch as our government engaged in torture and the institutional undermining of international law. She is now spending up to half her time doing what she can on this case and working to educate people about US involvement with arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and violation of long-established tenets of western jurisprudence.
This article from the Newton Tab, written after her second interview with her client, is an informative and sad account of Doris’ work and insights. The entire article is worth a read.
This letter was sent out by Doris and her partner following the first visit with Abdul Aziz Naji.
May 4, 2007
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
We are writing to give you an update on our Guantanamo client, Abdul Aziz Naji, who turns 32 years old today. We met him in early February in the prison at Guantanamo. We found him to be a charming young man, shy but eager to speak with us. We had planned to begin our meeting with very general conversation to try to put him at ease, but he didn’t want to waste a moment. He wanted to tell us the story of how he had gotten to Guantanamo, and he encouraged us to ask him questions. Over and over he expressed his gratitude that we were there to help him. He has a 6th grade education and apologized for not being able to write well, but he assured us that he could read our translated letters. He badly wanted to know what was happening in the world, but we could not tell him because we are prevented by the US government from discussing any news with him that is not directly related to his case. He spoke for some time about how difficult it was not to see the sun or trees or other people. He described his needs for medical attention, which were not being met. He told us that God would enable him to get out of prison some day.
Abdul Aziz Naji’s story is this: After working with his father as an ironworker and then serving in the Algeria military, he went to Kashmir to work for a social service organization, delivering humanitarian aid to impoverished Muslims in that area. (The concept of community in Islam, as we understand it, includes the provision of support or charity—zakat—for those in need, which could be a monetary contribution, disaster relief, or other social service work.) Shortly after arriving, he stepped on a landmine (in a country laced with them) and lost his leg, going to a hospital in Pakistan for treatment and rehabilitation. About a year later, when he was well enough to move about on his own, he visited the home of local man. He and that man were arrested. It’s not clear to us why this occurred – perhaps the man he was visiting was under suspicion, or perhaps the men were turned in by neighbors, like many men in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in return for the generous bounties that the US government was offering. Although the Pakistani police interrogated our client and found no reason to hold him, indicating he was free to go, some Americans who were present at his interrogation indicated that they wanted him. He was taken first to the US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo. Though initially he was badly beaten and his prosthetic leg was taken away for several months, with a promise of return if he "confessed," he has not been interrogated for a long time, which indicates the government does not consider him to have any intelligence value.
Many of the men held at Guantanamo have been living in conditions that permitted them some interaction with other prisoners, occasional exercise and exposure to sunlight, and meals and religious worship within sight and hearing of other prisoners. During the past few months, however, most of the men—including our client—have been transferred into a newly built maximum security facility where each man is kept in solitary confinement, with no windows, little or no exposure to sunlight or fresh air, little or no exercise (when offered, it’s frequently at 2:00 am), and no ability to see or hear others during meals or prayer. Although our client seemed to be holding up fairly well, many of the men have deteriorated terribly since their transfer into this long-term solitary confinement. They have become unable to work with their lawyers due to paranoia or extreme withdrawal, or they have become psychotic. We have requested government approval for a second visit with our client in late May, but as of this writing, the government has stated its intention to begin severely restricting attorney visits. Apparently, the level of isolation and hopelessness faced by these men is not yet satisfactory to the government.
We recently received a letter from Abdul Aziz’s parents in Algeria, in quick response to our having written them. It was filled with expressions of thanks and hope for the safe return of their son: "We thank you profoundly for the legal efforts you have undertaken on behalf of our son, who has not given us any news for nearly five years. We are very worried because before we didn’t know the circumstances or the place of his detention...we are indeed grateful for your efforts and kindness in going to visit him...you gave our family a new hope..." We plan to arrange a conference call with his parents and a translator very soon.
We have filed Freedom of Information requests with the Department of Defense and various other government agencies, which, we were recently informed, will probably not be acted on for years. We have submitted information to the Department of Defense in support of our client for purposes of the government’s annual "review" of the prisoners to determine if they are still "enemy combatants." We are under no illusion that our submission will make any difference, and of course we’ve heard nothing back on this. We’ve written to the US State Department requesting a meeting to discuss what options our client has, if released from Guantanamo, to be settled safely in another country. Receipt of our letter was acknowledged, but we have not been granted a meeting.
Along with many of the other attorneys, we’ve filed motions with the federal district court in Washington, DC, requesting the government provide us with information regarding the grounds on which our client is being held. The government opposed the motion and now seeks to dismiss all of the Guantanamo cases. We have opposed the government’s motion to dismiss, and are filing a new petition under a very unfavorable law that is the only venue we now have—the Detainee Treatment Act, by which Congress in late 2005 took away the Guantanamo prisoners’ habeas corpus right under the US Constitution to challenge their detention—a right that in 2004 was upheld by the US Supreme Court. As we write this, not one Guantanamo prisoner has had an impartial hearing before a neutral decision maker to determine if there is a basis for his detention.
The Supreme Court, now of a different composition, recently stated that it might consider the Guantanamo prisoners’ cases at some point in the future, but not until they subjected themselves to proceedings created by the Detainee Treatment Act, which was further fortified by the Military Commissions Act, passed by Congress last fall. It is a disturbing ruling because the government says the purpose of these proceedings is not to determine if a prisoner is actually an ''enemy combatant,'' but rather to determine if the military followed its own rules in applying the ''enemy combatant'' label. For that reason, Guantanamo prisoners will have no chance to produce evidence of their innocence that the military did not consider, or to challenge the use of evidence obtained through torture. Worse yet, these procedures will be held before the same appeals court that recently found the prisoners have no rights at all.
Last week we were part of a large group of Guantanamo lawyers who met on Capitol Hill with Senators and Congressional Representatives to discuss the importance of passing new legislation to restore habeas corpus rights to the prisoners. It looks like the restoration of this right, a core principle of our nation, will be a very close vote in a Congress where both parties remain afraid of being thought soft on terrorism. Contacting your Senators and Representative to request their vote for habeas corpus restoration will help to ensure that this most important avenue of relief from arbitrary detention is preserved here—and to show the world that our embrace of justice and responsible governance prescribes how captured members of our own military and diplomatic personnel should be treated.
As dismal as this report is, we do have hope that one day Guantanamo will be closed and that our government will abide by the rule of law. We are deeply grateful for your interest and your generosity. There’s no way we could be doing this without the wonderful support of people like you. It makes such a difference.
Ellen Lubell Doris Tennant
Here is Doris standing up for reality on New England Cable News. Scroll to page 3 to find the video.
Doris downplays the financial and emotional price she has paid for doing this work. She feels any price she pays is hardly worth mentioning in comparison with the suffering of the detainees. But in speaking on her behalf, I can be more forthcoming. She has been battling depression and financial hardship since her first trip to Guantanamo. I know many good-hearted citizens here experience trauma and despair just from hearing reports of the suffering created by our government, in our name. Imagine how much greater the challenge both of becoming personally acquainted with an apparently innocent detainee and of taking on the enormous task of fighting for him against the illegal and unprincipled machinations of the US government in Guantanamo.
Through our daughter, I have been encouraging Doris to join dailyKos. I feel certain she would find emotional support here, and Kossacks put a high premium on getting information straight from the horse's mouth. But Doris is not web literate, and she is so busy with her practice that she is not likely to make it here soon. Therefore, with her permission I have taken it upon myself to introduce this community to her work. I hope we can find a way to express the gratitude owed her by all of us who are appalled by the crimes being committed in our names.
If you are interested in contributing, emotionally, factually, or monetarily, please got to her website:
Doris has agreed to allow me to publish this report of her work. She tells me she simply doesn't have time to be here to answer comments, but she will read the comments. I'll hang around a bit, but I'm not the expert. You now know about as much as I do.
Update II: Contributions, the real story
Okay, all you beautiful people, I finally spoke with Doris and got straight on contributions. If you send a check written out to Tennant Lubell Detainee Fund, it will be placed in a regulated client trust account. The donation is not tax deductible. The address can be found at the website. They draw down funds from this account as they incur expenses. (They are not charging anything for their time.) They chose not to solicit funds on their web page. After some investigation, they chose not to use paypal, etc. for reasons Doris doesn't remember, perhaps some issue of administrative time. My apologies for taking so long for getting this clear. Chalk it up to communication issues between ex-spouses. I am deeply moved to be a part of this community. Since I came in a few months ago, my hopes have brightened considerably. Thank you and blessings.