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Storming the court - a human rights legal thriller

29 September 2005

by Carolyn Tan

This afternoon, I attended an event where Brandt Goldstein talked about his new book Storming the Court: How a Band of Yale Law Students Sued the President and Won. An animated and engaging speaker, Brandt started by giving an outline of (in his own words) the ‘human rights legal thriller’ that took him five and a half years of researching and writing to complete. Brandt's book tells the story of 300 Haitian political refugees who had been granted passage into the US but had tested HIV positive and hence were being held in Guantanamo, which  according to the American constitution is a land without law and where they had no rights at all. Ironic,  considering that we are talking about 300 democracy activists who  were attempting to flee to America, the land of democracy. A group of Yale law students took up the refugees'  cause and fought for their right to legal representation as well as release. 

This story is still very relevant today, especially with the attention that Guantanamo is getting in the media. A member of the audience brought up the issue that there is no accountability on Guantanamo today and what damage does that do to the values of the US ranging from the rule of law to individual freedom? The US has sacrificed its moral leadership, but is Senator McCain’s effort to make sure that there is no inhuman treatment in Guantanamo going to help rectify the situation?

Like the Haitian refugee case 12 years ago, action is being carried out right now to protect the human rights of the detainees. Even if this action does succeed, we still have to ask ourselves if big-level activism is ever going to create a permanent change in American society on the national stage? After all, it looks as if the same human rights violations that the Haitian refugees experienced 12 years ago have once again repeated themselves.

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