Magazine article The New Yorker

Gitmo Get-Together

Magazine article The New Yorker

Gitmo Get-Together

Article excerpt

Forgive a few Chelsea residents for staring in confusion at a sign that was recently taped to their building's front door: a "Gitmo Party"--the neighbors in 6-E were throwing one--does, on first glance, seem akin to "Abu Ghraib Cocktails" or "Prom Night in Peshawar." In the elevator, people talked about executive orders and federal judges who misinterpret them. These were defense lawyers, a mordant and heroic caste. Their host was Anthony Romero, the national director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the occasion was the issuance, by President Obama, of a directive that would shut down the prison camp at Guantanamo within a year. Romero had written, in an e-mail:

Dear Friends, This has been an amazing week for the restoration of the rule of law. . . . This is not an ACLU party, it is OUR party, and I'm just footing the bill. If we run out of wine and liquor because we stay long into the night regaling each other with war stories, the most sober among us will run to the local wine shop. If we run out of food and are still hungry, we will order take-out Chinese.

Drinking rum amid miniature Cuban banderas were the lions of the criminal-defense bar, lawyers whose clients have included white supremacists, environmental terrorists, Zacarias Moussaoui, the Unabomber, and Wen Ho Lee. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's lawyers from the Guantanamo tribunals were in attendance. "K.S.M., we had our own team personality," Lieutenant Colonel Mike Acuff, a military attorney from Chattanooga, recalled. "We were the team that liked to ride around on the mules like a little golf cart."

Tom Durkin, the Chicago attorney--he defended Matt Hale, the self-proclaimed Pontifex Maximus of the World Church of the Creator--said that he "wouldn't have missed this party for the world." Over the past four years, Durkin has made seven trips to Guantanamo. Initially, he was hesitant to get involved with the defense project, which was assembled by the A.C.L.U. He recalled, "I said to them, 'Let me speak to my managing partner and get back to you.' " He was referring to his wife, Janis Roberts, who stood beside him. "We have six kids who had to eat and go to college," she pointed out. "He said, 'I want to do this.' And, in hindsight, I know we did the right thing. …

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