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‘Sad day for legal system’



We've said goodbye to the separation of powers. We've bid "adieu" to the Geneva Conventions. And we can only dream of having habeas corpus rights for prisoners at the United States' privatized torture chambers in Cuba.

"Guantanamo is a threat to the rule of law and principles of democratic government," says Detroit attorney Bill Goodman. "The importance of it is to recognize the criminal nature of it and the criminal activity that this government has been involved in."

The civil rights lawyer ought to know. As legal director of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights for the past nine years, Goodman oversaw the legal battles involving prisoners held at Guantanamo. He coordinated the work of 500 attorneys throughout the United States who hoped to get prisoners court hearings and a look at the evidence against them or to have their cases dismissed. He filed lawsuits against private contractors accused of torturing prisoners during interrogations. He visited Cuba in January on the fifth anniversary of the opening of the detention center for alleged terrorists.

Although he's back in Detroit — his hometown — and in private practice, he's continuing to spread the word about the travesty that is Guantanamo, give updates on legal proceedings, and promote prosecuting what he considers other war crimes of the Bush administration.

"People need to know what's happening and what's at stake. Right now, all Guantanamo habeas corpus cases are in a state of suspension or have been delayed. It's really a sad day for the American legal system," he says.

Speaking last weekend to the Huntington Woods Peace, Citizenship and Education Project, Goodman described the detention center in Guantanamo as being in conflict with long-held democratic and American principles.

"The first thing that was announced was that the Geneva Conventions do not apply," Goodman says. In addition, prisoners are held without being able to view — let alone challenge — the evidence against them. Many have been prevented from seeing attorneys. Goodman contends all are tortured.

"Most of the people held in Guantanamo have done nothing wrong," Goodman says. "They don't fall into the criminal system. They don't fall under the Geneva Conventions. They fall into a huge hole in the middle."

For that, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a complaint asking Germany's federal prosecutor to open an investigation of alleged war crimes committed by high-ranking members of the Bush administration, including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for authorizing torture at Guantanamo (see our cover story "Fighting the Goodman fight," MT, Jan. 10). Goodman also has sought relief for the hundreds of Muslim men detained in national "roundups" after Sept. 11. He's had other cases involving individual prisoners who were held and never convicted of terrorism or other crimes.

Those are all issues that should strike fear in the hearts of Americans and anyone who believes in democracy, Goodman says.

"If we don't address this problem as a nation, we're going to be stuck with something damn close to it in the future," he says. "All you have to do is look at the last Republican presidential candidates' debate. [Rudy] Giuliani wants to waterboard everyone he can get his hands on. [Mitt] Romney wants to double the size of Guantanamo."

Formed four years ago to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Huntington Woods Peace, Citizenship and Education Project meets the third Thursday of each month and plans regular anti-war vigils at Eleven Mile Road and Woodward Avenue on the fourth Saturdays of each month.

Still, the end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq or legal remedies to war crimes the U.S. government is perpetuating would matter little to some of Goodman's clients. "Their lives in many cases have already been ruined," he says.

Part of what would show the world that America is serious about remedying the sins of the current administration would be to impeach President Bush, Goodman says. He's doing his part to promote that cause as well.

Goodman will be part of a panel that includes Metro Times columnist Jack Lessenberry at an Impeachment Town Hall meeting. It's scheduled for 5 p.m., Tuesday, May 29, at Central United Methodist Church, 23 E. Adams St., Detroit. Metro Times editor W. Kim Heron is to moderate.

Sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild and a host of other human rights organizations, the panel and discussion will also feature: JoAnn Watson, the Detroit City Council member who co-introduced that group's resolution in support of impeachment; Maureen Taylor, the state chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization; Malik Rahim, co-founder of the group Common Ground and a former Black Panther Party member; Ann Wright, a U.S. Army colonel and diplomat who resigned in protest the day before the Iraq war began, and Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who prepared the president's daily brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates.

Lessenberry, who wrote a few weeks ago he was willing to consider supporting impeachment, a change in the position he'd held for months, says this is an issue that deserves public examination and discussion "no matter how you may feel."

Curt Guyette edits News Hits. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or

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