ike many attorneys, Newton lawyers Doris Tennant
and Ellen Lubell handle the more routine work of the legal system, representing
spouses wanting a divorce and nonprofits needing legal help.
But on Feb. 1, Tennant and Lubell met in Cuba for a face-to-face interview
with a client unlike any other: Abdul Aziz Naji, an Algerian Muslim incarcerated
at Guantanamo Bay for more than five years as a terrorist.
The meeting took place in a 4-foot-by-5-foot windowless room, bare except
for four chairs and a table. The clanging of heavy metal doors outside the
room set up a constant din during the five-hour interview. Naji was seated
in a chair, shackled hand and foot, his ankles chained to the floor. He
says he has been tortured. They say he needs a lawyer.
"I don't feel like I can be a lawyer without doing what we're doing,"
Tennant told a Boston Bar Association forum yesterday. "When you really
see that the rule of law is being so disdained, it's hard to live with yourself
and the oath you take as a lawyer, not to mention a responsible citizen,
without saying, 'This is the least of what we can do.' "
Tennant and Lubell are part of a nationwide network of lawyers who represent
Guantanamo prisoners, organized by the Center for Constitutional Rights
in New York. The group is coordinating the defense of about 300 detainees.
Tennant and Lubell are among 34 lawyers in Massachusetts assigned to clients.
About 750 prisoners have passed through Guanatanamo since January 2002,
and about 395 have been released, a center spokesman said. The best-known
detainee is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, said last week to have confessed to
masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack and to beheading
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
In an interview this week, the two Newton lawyers said they do not know
whether Naji and other Guantanamo prisoners are terrorists, but that whether
they are should be determined in court.
"Let's find that out," Lubell said. "What are we waiting for? If there's
reason to believe that, let's get them into a court. We've created a process
in this country that we think is good enough for all of us to ferret out
She added that if any prisoner is implicated in terrorist activity, "we
should be punishing that person."
Formerly a bankruptcy specialist at two prestigious Boston law firms,
Tennant, 56, now practices family law. Lubell, 47, exchanged jobs working
at another top-flight Boston firm and at the University of Massachusetts
to represent nonprofits. They set up their law firm last April.
Tennant and Lubell spend half their time now on Naji's defense. They
are representing Naji pro bono, which is likely to cost them about $20,000
per year for travel, language interpretation, and legal services. They have
raised about $16,000. They have also received phone calls and e-mails accusing
them of supporting terrorists.
They say they were drawn to represent alleged terrorists by several recent
events and by their own religious faiths.
In December 2005, Tennant played a role in "Guantanamo: Honor Bound to
Defend Freedom," a play constructed from Guantanamo prisoners' correspondence.
The program gave her more of a sense of intimacy with their plight, she
Tennant also learned that a colleague was representing one of the Guantanamo
detainees. Then, three other detainees hanged themselves last June, alarming
both Tennant and Lubell.
Tennant grew up in Georgia, raised as a fundamentalist Methodist, and
said she still lives by Christian teachings.
"I do take the words of Jesus seriously," she said. "God's law is love."
Lubell, a Jew whose father fled Belgium just weeks before it was overrun
by the Nazis, said her religion teaches tolerance, respect for others, and
defense of their rights. "I always wanted to make the world a better place,"
said Lubell, a native of New York City.
While no charges have been filed against Naji, Tennant and Lubell discovered
through a Freedom of Information Act request that the federal government
views him as a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Muslim terrorist organization
affiliated with Al Qaeda.
Tennant and Lubell said Naji told them he was doing humanitarian work
for the organization. They said they independently confirmed that it had
a social service arm.
Tennant and Lubell said Naji told them through an Arabic interpreter
that in January 2002 he was flown to Guantanamo, where he said he was held
in solitary confinement for about 20 days and interrogated several times
for six or seven hours at a stretch.
Last October, they said, Naji was moved to Camp 6 and placed alone in
a windowless cell. He is allowed out of the cell daily for two hours of
solo exercise in a wire-mesh cage.
Erik Ablin, a US Department of Justice spokesman, declined to comment
last week about Naji.
With the other lawyers for the Guantanamo prisoners, Tennant and Lubell
have petitioned the US District Court, challenging the legality of the detention.
A series of federal laws and judicial rulings have denied the prisoners
a day in court so far. The cases are now on appeal to the US Supreme Court.
Tennant and Lubell returned to the United States on Feb. 2.
"We couldn't tell him for sure when we'd be back," Tennant said. " We
don't know what state he'll be in."