Guantanamo Detainees Submit Pro Se Petitions For Release

Captives plead for release in personal notes to court. Today's Miami Herald has an interesting story on the receipt by the US District Court for the District of Columbia of a batch of handwritten, sometimes one paragraph, petitions for help from Guantanamo detainees. The court docketed some of them, treating them as petitions for writs of mandamus, and has yet to take action on others. The article includes a nice discussion of the representation issue — will the petitioners represent themselves (which is a practical impossibility under the circumstances), or will the court appoint counsel and if so how.

In the latest twist in the Guantánamo Bay legal struggle, 16 war-on-terror prisoners ranging from a self-described nomadic shepherd to a disabled 78-year-old Afghan man are suing the U.S. government — acting as their own attorneys from behind the razor wire at Camp Delta in Cuba.

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., docketed the cases on May 3 after a series of single-paragraph pleas from captives arrived in the court's mail.

The latest suits are extraordinary because the 16 captives wrote to the court directly, without benefit of a lawyer, from their prison camp 1,300 miles away. Further, some of the prisoners suing on their own are illiterate.

''My wish from you is please inquire about my sad story. I've been detained here unlawfully and sinlessly,'' writes Sharbat-Khan, age unknown, the self-described shepherd who said he lost 300 sheep and 10 camels when he was captured in Afghanistan and sent to the base in Cuba.

The 16 captives dictated their pleas to military payroll linguists at Guantánamo, according to military sources, who translated them and submitted them to military censorship.

Officers then sent them to the court by certified U.S. mail, along with 16 others, still unfiled, that arrived this week.

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