The Guantánamo Lawyers

Inside a Prison Outside the Law

464 pages

November, 2009

ISBN: 9780814737361



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Mark Denbeaux is a professor at Seton Hall Law School, where he also directs the Center for Policy and Research.

All books by Mark P. Denbeaux

Jonathan Hafetz is Associate Professor at Seton Hall Law School and has litigated numerous landmark habeas corpus detention cases. He also is the co-editor (with Mark Denbeaux) of The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law (NYU Press, 2009).

All books by Jonathan Hafetz

Read free excerpts from the book at and explore the complete archive of narratives at

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States imprisoned more than seven hundred and fifty men at its naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. These men, ranging from teenage boys to men in their eighties from over forty different countries, were detained for years without charges, trial, and a fair hearing. Without any legal status or protection, they were truly outside the law: imprisoned in secret, denied communication with their families, and subjected to extreme isolation, physical and mental abuse, and, in some instances, torture.

These are the detainees’ stories, told by their lawyers because the prisoners themselves were silenced. It took habeas counsel more than two years—and a ruling from the United States Supreme Court—to finally gain the right to visit and talk to their clients at Guantánamo. Even then, lawyers were forced to operate under severe restrictions designed to inhibit communication and envelop the prison in secrecy. In time, however, lawyers were able to meet with their clients and bring the truth about Guantánamo to the world.

The Guantánamo Lawyers contains over one hundred personal narratives from attorneys who have represented detainees held at “GTMO” as well as at other overseas prisons, from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to secret CIA jails or “black sites.” Mark Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz—themselves lawyers for detainees—collected stories that cover virtually every facet of Guantánamo, and the litigation it sparked. Together, these moving, powerful voices create a historical record of Guantánamo’s legal, human, and moral failings, and provide a window into America’s catastrophic effort to create a prison beyond the law.

An online archive, hosted by New York University Libraries, will be available at the time of publication and will contain the complete texts as well as other accounts contributed by Guantánamo lawyers. The documents will be freely available on the Internet for research, teaching, and non-commercial uses, and will be preserved indefinitely as a historical collection.


  • “In this admirable compliation, Mark P. Denbeaux, a professor at Seaton hall University School of Law and Jonathan Hafetz, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Security Project, have explored one of this generation’s great moral questions by assembling first-person reports from over 100 attourneys who represent prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.”

    New York Law Journal

  • “[M]akes for gripping if somber reading. . .They have produced a book that will make other lawyers vicariously proud.”


  • The Guantánamo Lawyers is a powerful and important book. These first-hand accounts strip way much of the veneer that has encased tepid and lifeless news stories of what has happened at Guantanamo and elsewhere. This behind-the-scenes look at these brave lawyers and abused detainees is fascinating and revealing.”


  • “Provides an invaluable perspective—or more accurately, perspectives, since more than one hundred lawyers contributed to the volume. These men and women, all working for nothing, have gained intimate access to those whom the United States sought to keep hidden behind strictly closed doors….The stories these lawyers have been able to tell, adroitly edited by Mark Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz, offer a multifaceted portrait of life on the base.

    New York Review of Books

  • “The most compelling reason to read is that the legal questions created by Guantanamo have not yet been fully resolved. President Obama’s promise to close the prison has so far gone unfulfilled, and John Paul Stevens, who will perhaps be remembered more for his writings on Guantanamo than any other subject, will leave the Court at the end of this term. No matter how the Guantanamo question is resolved, historians will no doubt benefit from Denbeaux and Hafetz’s excellent book.”

    —Tyler D. Helmond, in The Champion (NACDL)

  • “Perhaps the appeal to enlightened national interest was the best strategic means of accelerating the end of Guantánamo; but it necessarily de-emphasized in the public discourse the great cost imposed on the detainees. The many stories told in The Guantánamo Lawyers, which make Guantánamo’s human cost much more tangible, go some way towards redressing this.”

    —Concurring Opinions

  • “A new and remarkable book... made up of the written accounts by more than a hundred of the lawyers who provide detailed accounts of their meetings with their clients inside the prison... an informative and telling chronicle of what Guantanamo is really like...”

    The New York Times

  • “A critically important and inspired project. . . . Guantánamo from the point of view of the habeas lawyers—those courageous men and women who have stood up for the rule of law, the constitution and human rights as they represented the detainees beginning in December, 2001.”

    —Peter Jan Honigsburg, author of Our Nation, Unhinged: The Human Consequences of the War on Terror

  • “The narratives are excellent and very powerful, and provide an insightful view into what it is like to be a prisoner at Guantánamo and the challenges and emotional experiences in representing those prisoners.”

    —Jules Lobel, co-author of Less Safe, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror

  • “This is a fascinating and revealing behind-the-scenes account of the human stories inside Guantánamo, told candidly by some of America’s best, and most public-spirited, lawyers.”

    —Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals

  • “Finally, the silence surrounding Guantánamo has been broken. Person by person, through the eyes of their civilian and military defense attorneys, the Guantánamo detainees have found a voice. This collection of stories underscores the valiant efforts of these lawyers and the intentional cruelty of the Bush administration’s legal obstructiveness which withheld due process and imposed intolerable conditions upon hundreds of detainees. Readable, heartbreaking and expansive in its intimate detail, Hafetz and Denbeaux’s volume is an invaluable contribution to the history of Guantánamo.”

    —Karen Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days

  • “One of the most inspiring features of the post-9/11 world has been the willingness of lawyers from all walks of life to volunteer to represent those condemned to indefinite detention at Guantánamo. This book provides an invaluable birds-eye view of what it’s like to fight for justice in a law-free zone, representing men who the government has labeled the worst of the worst.”

    —David Cole, author of Justice at War: The Men and Ideas that Shaped America’s War on Terror

  • “The desperate words, quoted here, of Gitmo detainees on torture grab the heart and do not let go. This compelling book on the American penal colony and its residents is a cautionary tale of overzealous executive wartime power and the awful mess it sometimes leaves behind.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “A valuable contribution to the record of an unfinished story bound to reverberate for years to come.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “This collection of stirring narrative, government data and testimony, edited by two of the lawyers for those detained by the Bush administration as unlawful combatants at Guantánamo, puts America on notive about the issues of civil liberties and constitutional freedoms.“

    Publishers Weekly

  • “This volume is as chilling an indictment of the executive's disdain for the rule of law as could be imagined…. The details of what passes for law in Guantánamo will shock readers familiar with any concept of due process…. The skill, courage and resourcefulness of the unofficial Guantánamo Bay Bar Association give us genuine cause for pride in lawyers.”

    New York Law Journal