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When protecting the US Constitution means defending accused terrorists

After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States’ departments of Defense and of Justice launched a series of unprecedented initiatives aimed at fighting terrorism, including US Constitution-bending rendition, torture and detainment programmes. Eighteen years later, many of the methods used in the wake of the attacks remain legally ambiguous and largely hidden from public view. And no place has become more emblematic of extralegal post-9/11 practices than Guantánamo Bay: a US naval base on the eastern edge of Cuba, which since 2002 has served as a detention camp for accused terrorist combatants, who, in many cases, have been held for years without trial.

This short documentary follows three US Department of Defense lawyers – Alka Pradhan, James Connell and Sterling Thomas – working on a Guantánamo Bay case fraught with unique challenges and sensitivities. The trio serves as the defence team for Ammar al-Baluchi, one of five men currently facing the death penalty for 9/11-related crimes. To do their job, the lawyers must earn and keep al-Baluchi’s trust, present their defence before the family members of 9/11 victims, and even fend off interference from the very government entity for which they work – and which they accuse of repeatedly violating attorney-client privilege. It might seem an unenviable position, but it’s one they’ve taken on willingly, viewing their work as essential to protecting the US Constitution in a place where the rule of law has been so frequently and brazenly disregarded.

Director: Johanna Hamilton

Website: Field of Vision

22 March 2019

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