Monday, March 13, 2006

Gitmo Girl (or Lady Lawyer in Yemen)



Heather Rogers, a cousin to the scribe through marriage, is not only one of the world’s most attractive women, she’s also one of the brightest.

Heather got her law degree from Stanford and clerked for a judge on the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over the past few years. She forewent a nice salary at a big firm in Northern California so she and her husband Eben could stay in their beloved San Diego where they like to surf and buy tamales bought at the Ocean Beach farmers market.

She became a public and federal defender in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Southern California and spends a goodly amount of her time defending immigrants from prosecution and/or deportation in an region not very friendly to such people.

Heather hoped she was downshifting into a life of more modest effort, but when you’re smart you’re useful and she was recently tapped to join a team of attorneys assigned to handle a number of cases involving prisoners at Guantanamo Base (Gitmo) in Cuba.

highwayscribery has covered that place and the questionable, rather unAmerican practice of holding detainees, incommunicado, indefinitely, and without the right of legal due process, before ("An Intellectual Exercise" July 22, 2005).

The issue gets some press, but not what one might hope for: A defense of civil rights and American ideals.

Rather it’s the kind of drub shoveled out at Fox News which applies a "blowhard-interviews-blowhard" format, whereby some idiot like Scarborough serves up softballs to another like Sean Hannity: "Sean, a lot of liberals are all worked up about these detainees and their rights when actually, we know they’re not very nice people, right?"

Well, Heather just got back from Yemen where she met with the families of three Yemeni detainees and one from Afghanistan. She got a sense of the profiles on another 50 cases and came away with a more sad and tragic representation.

She relayed some of her adventures in Yemen through a series of e-mails to friends and family. They are tales of beauty, fear, and armed vigilance.

"In Marib we saw the ruins of two temples (one of them used to house an 8-meter statue of the Golden Ox, but that was about 4,000 years ago). Marib was Queen of Sheba territory; however, the temples are much older than the queen. The other temple was 3,000 years old. We then got to root around ‘old Marib.’ Very old; 3,000 years-old ancient ghost town. Even just walking around the ruins, I had two armed bodyguards! Very armed. When these guys say ‘guns,’ they mean guns. I mean, you could take out whole villages with this stuff. Our driver did not speak English, but one of the guides did speak some Spanish amazingly enough (learned in Cuba!), so we were able to communicate some."

Now that’s highwayscribery!

She adopted the local garb out of respect to Muslim sensibility, but as you can see from the picture above, wore it more like an updated Greta Garbo.

No wonder the guards were always shaking their guns in her face. A veil is no mask for an empowered woman.

Anyway, according to Heather, some of the detainees picked up during that first war with Afghanistan were indeed fighting the American invasion and rearrangement of the country’s topography. They did so, however, not for Al-Qaeda – as the administration and its lackeys at Fox News like to say – but as simple defenders of their country.

According to Heather, Al-Qaeda fighters were rarely detained in the mountain skirmishing along the border with Pakistan in early 2002, largely because as members of the terror network, they were well-protected.

Heather says that it is more than likely that people picked up in the high-perched villages were proselytizing for the Muslim faith and hauled in largely because they were not from that area and did not, therefore, possess the proper pretense for being in those parts.

She says others were merely aid workers and sometimes simple pilgrims without the documentation necessary to meet the higher standards of documentation imposed by a superpower invasion and dragnet.

The families, of course, are devastated. They have not seen their loved ones in almost five years, are not allowed to communicate with them, and have no idea of their condition, mentally, physically, or spiritually. They don’t know if they’re coming back, ever, and they don’t know what the final disposition of their cases will be.

Heather says one of the heaviest burdens she’s had to carry in her young career is that of being the only link between detainees and their families; the only person that will get to see the prisoners (hopefully) soon and relay their conditions and sentiments (through a translator) in the best way she can.

She and the scribe talked about how impossible it will be for her to meet the craving for news from her on both sides of this unfortunate equation.

The point here is that a lot of people get swept up in the broad and brutal hand of warfare. Our founding fathers recognized this and built some hard-and-fast protections into the system to avoid the suffering of innocents.

Of course, they were a bunch of antique idealists who could not have known more than the wise and burned out members of the Bush administration that saw fit to do away with those protections.

We should be glad there are people like Heather who are conscious of those protections and dedicated to their application around the world.

2 comments:

Stefanie said...

I'm glad to know there are people like Heather working to help those who have been held illegally in Gitmo these past years. Please tell her thanks :)

the highway scribe said...

Will do Stefanie. Thanks as always for checking in.