Bar News - November 3, 2006
Civil Rights, Guantanamo Bay Subject of Bownes Forum
From left to right, Franklin Pierce Law Center officials, Dean John Hutson, Professor and Chair of Lecture Committee Mary Wong, Bownes Forum lecturer Rob Kirsch, Interim DIrctorof Social Justice Institiute Megan Devorsey.
The civil rights of Bosnian detainees at Guantanamo Bay was the focus of a lecture by NH Bar member Rob Kirsch during the Judge Hugh H. Bownes Forum on Civil Rights held Oct. 18 at Franklin Pierce Law Center.
Since June 2004, Kirsch, a partner who heads the Environmental Department at WilmerHale, Boston, has represented six men seized in Bosnia and interned at Guantanamo in habeas corpus proceedings as part of an international pro bono effort by WilmerHale.
During his speech, Kirsch discussed the efforts by the firm to win his clients a hearing to test the validity of their imprisonment, and his observations about the ongoing tension between the War on Terror and the Constitution. Pierce Law Dean John D. Hutson, who also has expertise on this subject, answered audience questions, along with Kirsch, following the presentation.
Kirsch’s clients were born in Algeria. At the time of the September 11 attack on the United States, they had all lived in Bosnia for six to 10 years. Five are joint Bosnian/Algerian citizens and one is a permanent resident of Bosnia. All are married—four to Bosnian women—and collectively they have 20 children born in Bosnia. All were employed, most for charity groups, and all were living voluntarily in an integrated European society in 2001.
In early October 2001, the American Embassy in Sarajevo sought the arrest of the six men by the Bosnian government based on a suspicion—later determined to be false—that they were planning an attack on the Embassy. Kirsch related that when prosecutors resisted, the United States threatened sanctions; Bosnia yielded. Ninety days later, the Bosnian federal government released the six from jail, and handed them over to U.S. forces on Jan. 18, 2002. he said that despite the fact the suspicions originally used to arrest the men had, by then, been disproven—and despite a letter from the Bosnian government asking to have the men repatriated—they remain interned at Guantanamo Bay.
Kirsch has visited his clients at Guantanamo eight times, after obtaining the federal security clearance demanded by the Defense Department. Each visit requires a trip of five to seven days. His most recent trip was in August of this year and he will return to Guantanamo next month.
Pierce Law established the Judge Hugh H. Bownes Forum on Civil Rights in 1992 as an annual commemoration of the writing of the Bill of Rights and is named after US First Circuit Court Judge Hugh H. Bownes.