“Un- De- Re- classified”: Adel Hamad’s case goes to YouTube

Curator's Note

"Guantánamo unclassified" is, on its face, yet another homemadeish activist video, urging viewers to respond to a dire situation. But it is remarkable in a number of ways. Its challenge against the U.S. government’s detention of Adel Hamad, a Sudanese national held at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, is at once profoundly simple and immensely complex. Hamad’s attorney, William Teesdale, introduces the case while standing on a desolate-seeming Cuban shore. He looks off to his left as if to ensure he’s not being monitored, then leans down to look into the camera, the surf and wind audible behind him. The rest of the video is primarily comprised of interviews with people who knew Hamad. While the interviews hardly constitute legal, "under oath" testimony, they do emulate courtroom "character witnesses," testifying as to their memories of the man, rejecting the very idea that he might be an "extremist." "I never heard anything political from his mouth," says Dr. Sailani. "Do you understand?" The sheer banality of the interviews — recollections of watching TV or playing tennis with Hamad — gives the lie to TV conventions (whereby interviews are dramatic and decisive), but more importantly, suggests government investigators didn’t even do this much digging into the suspect’s background before incarcerating him for years. In part, the video seems an effort to get past the many and notorious "limits" placed on those trying to review detainee cases — to "unclassify" at least part of the process. As noted in "For Guantánamo Review Boards, Limits Abound," (New York Times 31 December 2006), "The military presented no unclassified information that Mr. Hamad was anything but a hospital administrator and former teacher, or that he knew of his employers’ purported ties" to al-Qaeda. Such lack of access to evidence is typical for detainees at Guantánamo and elsewhere. One possible question inspired by the video — posted to YouTube on 5 January 2007, "in response" to Chris Dodd’s YouTubing of his proposed legislation, Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007 — has to do with the real-world potentials of the venue. How might YouTube and other such sites not only invite bloggy, outraged or heartfelt responses but also generate legal and political "action," however that might be defined?

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