Emory Report
February 11, 2008
Volume 60, Number 19

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February 11, 2008
Students on the case at Guantanamo

By Liz Chilla

While their classmates were busy cramming for final exams, Lara Aryani and Carlissa Carson were boarding a military flight from Washington, D.C., to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The two law students traveled to Guantanamo with Visiting Associate Professor Charles Swift to assist in a military commission for Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan. The students visited Guantanamo as part of their work with Emory Law’s International Humanitarian Law Clinic.

Swift, acting director of the IHL Clinic, currently serves as the lead defense counsel for Hamdan, having previously — and successfully — defended him in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006, a historic case that challenged the military commissions that were being used at the time. The December hearing in which Aryani and Carson assisted was to decide whether Hamdan would receive protection as a prisoner of war.

The two students — who slept in tents during their stay on the island — were active participants in Hamdan’s defense, drafting and revising motions and conducting research. They also had the opportunity to put their individual knowledge into practice.

Aryani, who is fluent in Arabic, monitored the English-to-Arabic translations to ensure Hamdan was receiving accurate information. In one instance, Aryani and Swift submitted a motion to challenge one of the interpreter’s translations. Their motion was subsequently accepted by the judge.

“These students directly supported the litigation activities and brought a unique expertise and enthusiasm to the case,” Swift said.

As a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves, Carson used her security clearance to visit Camps Delta and Echo, as well as the remnants of Camp X-Ray. “It was surreal being so close to what the administration has deemed the worst of the worst,” said Carson. “And it was interesting to compare the detention facility at Guantanamo to those in the U.S.”

Swift’s continued involvement as Hamdan’s lawyer has provided a rare learning opportunity for his students, and the practical experience gained by Aryani and Carson in such a high profile case will serve them throughout their legal careers.

Carson already has called upon her experience in Guantanamo when drafting a comment, which was recently published by the Emory Law Journal, on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and its role in bringing about the Military Commissions Act of 2006. “Now, I am able to not only read and write about Hamdan, but be a part of the case,” said Carson.

More broadly, the students’ participation helps to highlight the importance of the preservation of human rights and Emory Law’s role in bring these issues to the forefront under the direction of Swift and the IHL Clinic.
“This is the cutting-edge of international humanitarian law,” said Swift.