Last month, I took my first trip to the US military detention camp at Guantánamo Bay to visit Sufyian Barhoumi. As a military handler drove me and my colleagues from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) down the winding road from the ferry landing to the camp, I marveled at the lush green hills and sparkling blue water around us. The serenely beautiful setting stands in stark contrast to the detention camp, which is jarringly ugly: Endless rolls of rusty barbed wire, layers of fencing enmeshed with opaque green cloth, cages with peeling paint, gravel pits where grass should be. A warehouse to store men we don’t know what to do with.
Guantánamo is a sprawling network of several smaller detention camps. Many of the camps, such as Camp Iguana, where children were held, are no longer in use. Currently, detainees are housed in two different camps. Fourteen “high value detainees,” who were interrogated at the CIA’s notorious “black sites” prior to being shipped to Guantánamo, are held in Camp 7. The rest, like Sufyian, are held in Camp 6. At Camp Echo, the site designated for client meetings, my colleagues and I are ushered into a tiny office. We submit our papers to a member of the Privilege Review Team (PRT), who must approve and stamp them before we can bring them into our meeting. The detainees and anyone who interacts with them are subject to a gag order. Very little information is allowed in, and very little is allowed out.
Attorneys must obtain security clearances to meet with their clients because everything the detainees say is presumptively classified, even now, a decade and a half after they were brought here. The PRT must ensure that their utterances don’t pose a threat to national security before they can be declassified and shared with the public. I applied for my clearance to see Sufyian a few months before I graduated from law school; it took nearly 10 months to process.