Can America still keep a promise?

From recent history, I’d say probably not. Tyler Cabot at Esquire:

Noor, as he prefers to be called, is not unique among the 166 men who remain at Guantánamo. He’s an illiterate peasant from Sudan who worked as a quartermaster and small arms trainer at a low-level, jihadist training camp in Afghanistan in the years before 9/11. He never plotted any terror attacks, never killed or hurt a single American. He was a minor figure, powerless. Or in the words of someone close to the team that prosecuted him, “one of life’s losers.” Many of the men at Guantánamo are like Noor: small men who somehow became the enemy of the most powerful nation of all time.

And yet Noor was also very different in 2011. Because his case was actually advancing through the tribunal system, he was seen by many as one of the lucky ones at Guantánamo. Unlike the dozens of others who remained uncharged, or had been cleared for repatriation to their home countries yet frozen in place by Congress, Noor was getting his day in court before a military judge and jury. And if convicted, he would serve his time and be able to go home to Sudan.

He was also different because my father was his lawyer. For years I’d watched from afar as my father, Howard Cabot, balanced his responsibilities as a corporate defense litigator with his constant trips to Guantánamo to represent Noor. I’d heard about the military transport planes he often flew, the jungle rats, the humidity so stifling that one lived in a constant stream of sweat. But also of the challenges of representing an accused terrorist so different from him, and my father’s fundamental belief in the need to do so, because every person of every belief deserved justice; that was the foundation of America’s legal system. And now I was with my dad on this vanished island outpost, observing from the press box at the back of the fortified courtroom.

For five days I watched the government present evidence against Noor and then watched my father’s team reply. I saw Noor, thin, long beard, virgin white robes, hunched, his small dark head always looking away. He was a broken man. And yet when the judge announced the plea deal at the conclusion — which included his pleading guilty to material support for terrorism and conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism — a weight was lifted. Noor was a man with an exit. After over nine years on the island, if Noor agreed to cooperate and testify for the government, he would be released in 34 months, December 2013.

There’s one scene I didn’t include in my original story about Noor. It took place after the trial in a trailer that served as a makeshift press conference staging area. It was extremely hot in the trailer, and I remember sweat streaming down the faces of Noor’s legal team, as well as the prosecution, neatly dressed in their military uniforms. My father was asked by a reporter whether he trusted that the government would actually abide by its side of the deal. What if Noor cooperated, and yet the government refused to release him? My father’s answer was simple: They had a deal. And there was no reason to believe the government wouldn’t live up to its end of the bargain.

In a sense, Noor and his legal team were taking a leap of faith. They had to trust that in 2011, even after a decade of embarrassment, torture, and legal darkness at Guantánamo, that America’s word was still binding. Because if it wasn’t, if the government of the United States could strike a legal, court-approved deal and walk away… well, who could imagine what that would mean? Not just for Noor, but for the country.

As Charlie Savage reported today in the New York Times, the government has made no preparations for Noor’s repatriation, despite a recommendation by the previous convening authority that Noor be released once his sentence is complete. The United States is not keeping its word.

After he was sentenced in February 2011, for the first time in nearly a decade, Noor had an end-point. He began eating better and watching his weight, because he knew that if he kept his side of the bargain, one day he would be free. He would go back to Sudan, he would marry, he would begin his life once again.

Today, that end-point is fading. Soon, it may be gone.

Thanks to Thomas Soldan.

2 thoughts on “Can America still keep a promise?

  1. Obama could solve this issue within 24 hours. Even though 70%+ of the American people feel that Gitmo should remain open until the Second Coming. Hillary could have helped him solve it in the four years that she was the Secretary of State. By finding homes for these men. Neither one of them wanted to solve this problem and so it remains with us.

  2. OMG. And, also, I feel like crying.

    So, when will we know for sure the US is screwing over this poor guy? By what day in December of this year?

    Well, if Obama wants to change, he could start with righting this potential injustice.

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