Wahldof Abdul Mokit was released last week from Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba to his home country of Tajikistan.
University Law School Prof. Bridget McCormack has represented Mokit since 2005.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based non-profit human rights legal advocacy group, assigned McCormack to Mokit’s case after she contacted them offering her services to Guantanamo detainees.
Mokit had sent a letter to the center asking for representation, saying that he didn’t know why he had been detained.
McCormack, the Law School’s associate dean for clinical programs, said she can’t speak about the details of why Mokit was suddenly released because they are classified.
Guantanamo is a military prison that houses those suspected of involvement in terrorism. As of November 2006, roughly 775 detainees had been at Guantanamo at one time, 340 had been released, which left 435 in custody, according to MSNBC. The Bush administration has labeled these people as “enemy combatants” and has argued that they’re not protected by the Geneva Conventions. The writ of habeas corpus – the right to challenge one’s imprisonment – is not guaranteed to them.
Because of security restrictions, McCormack was not allowed to meet with Mokit until she had acquired a special security clearance. This process took almost a year, and Mokit was released before McCormack could travel to Cuba.
Now that she has the security clearance, however, McCormack would be able to meet with Guantanamo detainees in any future cases she may take on. McCormack said she is considering taking more cases from inmates at the Cuban facility.
McCormack teaches law clinics at the law school. There, she selects clients and enlists students to assist in researching and building a case. In many cases, students are active in the litigation process.
McCormack said her selection of cases is guided by two principles: an obligation to her students to give them important experience and an obligation to social justice.
That means only selecting clients who cannot afford a lawyer or who are otherwise not entitled to one. While Guantatamo detainees are a clear example of such persons, most of McCormack’s students are involved in local and state-level cases.
McCormack is modest about her work.
“I have to give more credit to the private practice lawyers who do pro bono work,” she said.
While all lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees volunteer their services, McCormack’s resources at the Law School make it easier for her to work for free.
McCormack said she feels a special obligation to represent prisoners at Guantanamo. In a June 2005 editorial in The Detroit News, she wrote, “Our commitment to such basic rights extends to our most serious transgressors, and it is upheld during our most difficult times. Such a commitment most distinguishes us from our enemies.”
McCormack said she hopes that more attorneys take up the challenge of representing Guantanamo detainees.
“We’re all going to feel a lot better about this period if we stand up,” she said.
Standing up in that way may soon be impossible, though.
The Military Commissions Act of 2006 officially eliminates the right to habeas corpus for anyone the government labels an “enemy combatant.”
Litigation has continued while the law’s constitutionality is debated in the courts and a Supreme Court decision upholding the law would effectively halt litigation on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo. Last week, the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the act’s constitutionality and McCormack expects the Supreme Court to accept the case next year. She was optimistic about getting the law struck down.