Filing Court Papers, Guantanamo Style

04/12/2007 04:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I have been an attorney for almost twenty-five years. I have filed thousands of documents in the various courts, many have been short routine documents others complex and lengthy, but the procedures have been pretty much the same no matter which court.... And then came the Guantanamo cases. In keeping with the kangaroo atmosphere of the litigation, new procedures were established to make even the filing of routine documents as cumbersome as could possibly be established.

Yes, I know the government claims that there are big bad secrets in many of the documents that only we attorneys get to see and that the government needs to keep those documents out of the public eye (and if you ever get to see the documents you will know why!). Yes, there are lots of bad things in the documents that the government wants to keep a secret, but the bad things are what our government and military has done to these men. This is not about national security, (Link to John Lennon and Al-G two peas 2-5-07) this is about national shame.

So, we attorneys cannot file anything without it first being sent to the "court security office" (CSO) Want to file a motion to add a new attorney? Clear it first with the CSO. Want an extension of time to file a brief? Again, file it with the CSO. That is because there is no such thing as a routine document in the Guantanamo litigation. And what does it mean to file it with the CSO? Well for me, in Chicago, it means I cannot file electronically. It means I have to pay a courier service to deliver the papers to the CSO in Washington, DC. Usually a few hours after delivery I get a call with the "all clear" and then I can take the document and file it electronically on the public court docket. But sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes no one is at the CSO. (One time I had Fed Ex go back three times in one day, but no one was ever there and my document did not get filed that day.) So how did the CSO get around that little problem of not being around? They have added to the process, "the call." Now I have to call the CSO (to see if anyone is around) to tell them I have a courier coming.... And if no one answers? It means no one is there and you can't deliver it. So you call again and again until someone answers.

And what is the "all clear" about? Well the document has to be screened by someone to make sure there is nothing in it that should not be made public. And who does the reading and makes that determination? My opposing counsel. Yes, the CSO gives my documents to the government attorney assigned in these cases, to read and decide if anything should be kept a secret, ...before the documents can be publicly filed. I guess the theory is who would know better about those secrets than my opposing counsel, right?

But all of the above is the easy part. Things get trickier if I want to quote from the only "secret" document I have (...A document which, by the way, has nothing in it that should be considered a secret.) I have to fly to DC and go to the "secret office" where they have computers and printers for the lawyers. I also have a secret drawer at the secret office with my secret document in it. And it is at this facility, and only at this facility, that I can prepare whatever it is that I want to file with the court that utilizes information from the secret document.

I cannot work from my own computer at this secret location because then my computer becomes "tainted" and will be confiscated. If I bring a diskette or a thumb drive with materials from my office computer it must forever (I guess) stay in my little drawer at the "secret" office. In theory I could bring my laptop and a bunch of thumb drives, and copy information onto the thumb drives as I need it, but each thumb drive can only be used once and I am not that rich.
When I finish writing whatever it is I am preparing for the court, I must make all of the copies on the government copy machine (and shred any miscopies) then the administrator from the secret facility calls the CSO and asks them to send someone over to pick up the documents (and again if no one is there they have to keep calling). The only good news about working from the secret facility is that the document is considered "filed" as soon as you hand it over to the administrator... then it becomes the administrator's problem to get it to the CSO.

At least they have a new copier at the secret facility now. The last time I filed something that discussed my secret document the printer at the secret place kept breaking down. There was a sign on it that said it was going to be replaced soon, but I was told the sign had been there for more than a year. My secret document has about 175 pages in it (I guess they think that makes it seem more secret) and I needed to make seven copies. Every twenty pages or so the machine broke down. I spent one whole day copying the secret document and shredding the miscopies.
I recently spent two days at the secret facility filing two separate documents for my Libyan client Mr. Al-Ghizzawi. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, like so many men at Guantanamo, does not belong there and I have filed numerous documents with the various courts trying to get their attention to this great injustice. These two days I was filing two more. The first document did not rely on anything secret, but I prepared and filed it at the facility because I had to be there for filing the second document anyway. I gave the first document to the administrator on Monday and someone from the CSO came and picked it up sometime later. The next day after I had already left DC, I received an email from my opposing counsel giving me the "all clear" to file the document publicly. Only problem was that I didn't have the document. I could not take the document out of the "secure facility" (hence the name?) until I received the "all clear" and now I was in transit, back to Chicago. The answer? I had to ask my opposing counsel to send me my client's document so that I could file it with the court. So it goes.

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