Gitmo in Person

W. David Ball is an expert in criminal procedure and prison reform. Here’s what he has to say about Guantánamo.

As a place, Guantánamo Bay is beautiful: population 6,000, nice beach, a McDonald’s, souvenirs for sale. “Life goes on,” says W. David Ball, an associate professor of law who specializes in criminal procedure. Several dozen people are still detained there accused of terrorism, Ball notes. Ball recently went to observe a tribunal hearing. The four-day visit was highly restrictive in what he could see, record, or ask. It stirred in him new moral qualms about Guantánamo. Proceedings were slow: One defendant had two court appearances in four years. “He ended up withdrawing one of his pleas because the law had changed,” Ball says. “He could no longer be charged with one of his counts.” If the goal is keeping this chapter out of sight, out of mind, it’s working, Ball says. Defendants had often been tortured before arrival and have inconvenient access to lawyers. “If you’re concerned about legitimacy of these trials, then Guantánamo is not a great thing.”

post-image At night, W. David Ball stayed in tent housing formerly used by Haitian refugees. Rooms were kept frigid to keep out iguanas and nocturnal 15-pound rats. Photo by Getty Images
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