Lawyer for Gitmo detainees: 'Less hope now than ever'

Documents about Guantanamo sit on David Remes' desk.

Story highlights

  • Lawyer David Remes says the Supreme Court has shut down on Guantanamo
  • The high court this year turned down all requests from Gitmo detainees
  • Guantanamo detention center houses 169 prisoners
David Remes used to be a partner at a top Washington law firm, but he left four years ago to defend, for free, prisoners at the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. The U.S. Supreme Court had just opened its door to Guantanamo prisoners in Boumediene v. Bush. The case recognized the prisoners' right to challenge their detentions in court, even if they weren't U.S. citizens and even though they were imprisoned abroad.
At the time, the controversial detention center was frequently in headlines and talked about on the campaign trail. As one of his first acts in office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed within a year.
Three and a half years later, it's still open, and it's faded from the public eye.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court refused to take a fresh look at the habeas corpus petitions by the suspected foreign enemy fighters for the second year in a row.
David Remes left a big law firm to defend prisoners in Guantanamo for free.
Guantanamo prisoners still have the right to challenge their detentions, Remes said, but it's more symbolic than real.
In his opinion, the Supreme Court has shut the door on Guantanamo.
"I wouldn't say I'm numb," Remes told CNN. "But I am realistic. I tell my clients my pessimism has never failed me. I don't want to give them hope unless there is hope. There's less hope now than ever."
Of the 169 people still detained, the government says 89 aren't a threat, but Obama and Congress have blocked their release. As for the rest, some of them have a shot at a military hearing, but 46 don't have that chance because the government says they can't be tried for one reason or another but are too dangerous to be released.
"So now, the executive is against transfers, Congress is against transfers and the courthouse doors are shut," Remes says. "All three branches of the government are aligned against us."
If there was any Guantanamo prisoner case that lawyers thought the Supreme Court would take up, it was Adnan Latif's of Yemen. Remes is his lawyer.
The government says Latif went to Afghanistan to fight for al Qaeda. Latif says he went to Afghanistan and Pakistan to get medical treatment with the help of an Islamic charity. He's been at Guantanamo for 10 years.
"Adnan is a very disturbed young man," Remes says. "He has been in the psych ward. He's been on suicide watch. He has eaten screws, urine cups, plastic bags. He would smear excrement all over his body. I once said to him: How can you stand the smell? He said, 'That's nothing compared to what I'm feeling.' "
Over the years, Remes has gotten to know Latif. He says he's familiar with his mental problems, his apparent suicide attempts, his poetry.
At one meeting he had with his client -- then in his seventh year as a prisoner -- Remes says Latif threw a cup of his blood on him.
He'd cut a vein in his wrist and let the blood flow into an empty cup under the table where they sat.
The next time they met, Remes says, the prison guards had Latif in so many restraints that Remes had to call a federal judge for help when Latif wanted to use the bathroom. They had to litigate it over the phone.
He said the judge "didn't want to second-guess the security aspect and he said, 'Well, he's got to be able to clean himself,' " Remes said.
About a year later, that same judge, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy, reviewed the evidence against Latif in a petition for habeas corpus -- the right that was granted to Guantanamo prisoners in the Boumediene case.
Kennedy found the government's evidence, based on an intelligence report by U.S. agents, wasn't reliable enough to keep Latif locked up. And he found Latif's story was plausible, so he ordered Latif's release in July 2010.
But in a 2-1 vote, the appeals court that reviews all Guantanamo habeas cases reversed that in October 2011.
The appeals court said Kennedy should have automatically presumed the government's intelligence report on Latif was reliable and rejected the case.
Latif is still a prisoner at Guantanamo.
After the Supreme Court turned down Latif's case on June 11, Remes called Latif to tell him. He also called Latif's family in Yemen.
Remes asked Latif's younger brother, Ibrahim, whether he had any questions. Ibrahim wanted to know why his brother hadn't been released even though a federal judge said he should be.
Remes said he explained what happened, and they talked a bit more.
Then, Remes said Ibrahim thanked him "from the depth of my family's heart for all you have done," and hung up.