It’s a few days before Thanksgiving last year, and U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Jason Wareham, is sitting in yet another Beltway traffic jam.
He is fresh off a two-week stay at Camp Justice — the little postage stamp of American soil on the American postcard that is Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — where five defendants, accused of masterminding the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are being detained and tried in what is described by the government as the largest murder case in American history.
Wareham is on the defense team for one of the men accused in the 9/11 plot, Ammar al Baluchi, and he is called to Guantanamo regularly for hearings and meetings with his client.
“Like a lot of people, I didn’t know much about the military commissions until I was assigned to them,” says Wareham, a 2007 Creighton University School of Law alumnus who began work with the commissions in the spring of 2016.
“But like most people who familiarize themselves with it, it’s clear that this is one of the most important legal battles going on in the U.S. today,” he says, adding that his views do not reflect the views of the Department of Defense, the United States government, or any agency or instrumentality thereof.
“Anything that happens out of this will have a massive and lasting impact on the entire federal court system,” he says. “It’s probably the biggest rule-of-law knife fight in history.”
It’s a fight that many in the U.S. and abroad have left to a small but dedicated cadre of both military and civilian lawyers who are, in the minds of many, defending the indefensible: a group of men who stand accused of masterminding the deaths of thousands of people in events that have served to galvanize American patriotism and alter the nation’s politics in the profoundest ways since the Great Depression and World War II.
All the more reason, say Wareham and a group of Creighton law students who are part of a joint legal and governmental education program, to provide that defense.
“In the end, it’s not just that you’re defending the accused,” says Amber Foley, a third-year student in Creighton law school’s Government Organization and Leadership (GOAL) program, which has become a pipeline of sorts for Creighton students to work on the defense teams of the Guantanamo detainees.
“You’re defending the Constitution, where that right to counsel is written,” she says. “In order for there to be justice for all, that zealous advocacy on behalf of your client — no matter what they’re accused of — is part of it.
“And the transparency of a legal proceeding is not only for the client. It’s for the American public and international community to see that fair procedures should be at work,” Foley says.
A sergeant and a military police officer in the U.S. Army, Anna Wright, MS’15, JD’15, has seen and known intimately the workings of military justice.
After a deployment in 2011, she decided that she wanted to go to law school and take up work as a military attorney for the Department of Defense. Creighton’s GOAL program seemed like the best way to make that happen.
Students in the program spend the first semester of their third year of law school living in Washington, D.C., and participating in a full-time externship with a federal agency or congressional committee or office.
Students have worked at the Department of State, Department of Justice, the Senate and the National Mediation Service, among other agencies.
Landing in D.C. in 2015, Wright met the GOAL liaison in D.C., Michaela Sims, a 1996 Creighton law graduate, who said a new opportunity was emerging, based on a conversation Sims had with someone at her church.
“It was just one of those who-you-know things that happen in Washington,” Wright says. “But at the end of the day, Michaela asked if I’d be interested in working on the Military Commission Defense Organization (MCDO) and maybe going down to Guantanamo.
“So I went to the law offices of James G. Connell III, got a security clearance, and went to work for the MCDO. It was a pretty incredible experience, especially considering how receptive everyone was to having a law school student intern working on one of the biggest cases in the country’s history.”
To learn more about the efforts to provide legal representation to the detainees at Guantanamo, read the full article in Creighton magazine.