The Media Portrayal of GTMO Attorneys

Zero Dark Thirty, the recently released movie chronicling the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has been winning over audiences and came in at #2 in the Box Office this past week (grossing $1.2 million this week, and $58.1 million to date).  While the movie is undoubtedly well-made, it is just that, a movie, not a documentary.

While many of the Center for Policy and Research fellows have enjoyed the film since its release, all acknowledge that some element of creative license was taken with regards to its depiction of the events surrounding UBL’s capture.

Yesterday, The Hill published a blog post entitled “What Zero Dark Thirty gets wrong about Guantanamo lawyers.” The post was inspired specifically by a scene in the movie in which the CIA believes UBL may be hiding in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  After a government official asks whether a GTMO detainee may be able to confirm his location, a CIA operative responds, “Who the hell am I supposed to ask, some guy in Gitmo who’s all lawyered up?” He then explains that he is skeptical and believes that any GTMO lawyer would simply tip off al-Qaeda.The post continues to question the movie’s portrayal of defense attorneys and its depiction of their motives.

As a law student working in the Center for Policy and Research, I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with several Guantanamo lawyers, in addition to working closely with our director, Guantanamo lawyer and Professor Mark Denbeaux.  After two and years as a Center fellow, I can confidently say that I wholeheartedly disagree with the assertion that defense attorneys (particularly GTMO defense attorneys) are “morally questionable hired guns” or “traitors.” The authors of this post are correct: these attorneys are well-intentioned human rights lawyers who work tirelessly to uphold the Constitution.  On the walls of our office, a group of Center alumni have hung a quote which reads:

“The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough.  It was however one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.” -John Adams

Like the GTMO lawyers, Adams took part in defending individuals who were politically unpopular, yet he understood that his role in their defense assisted in upholding the Constitution of the United States.  Yes, GTMO attorneys are working to protect the interests of their clients, but they are also working to protect the interests of our country, a crucial detail which is rarely recognized in depictions of defense attorneys in popular culture.

Read “What Zero Dark Thirty gets wrong about Guantanamo lawyers” here.

Kelly Ann Taddonio, Research Fellow

Center for Policy & Research

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