St. Johnsbury Lawyer Still Seeking Trial for Guantanamo Client

Jul 8, 2013

The military prison at Guantanamo Bay has been making fresh headlines lately. 

Recently President Obama vowed to step up efforts to close the facility.

But a Vermont attorney is still trying to get a trial for an Afghan man who has been detained in Guantanamo since 2002. 

Abdul Zahir is an Afghan citizen. He’s being held  at Guantanamo because he was a translator  for a man  the US government calls a “high value detainee” who allegedly planned attacks for al Qaeda.  

Zahir, the translator, was charged under a military commission later ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. So now he is in legal limbo—neither charged nor released.

Robert Gensburg of St. Johnsbury is one of Zahir’s attorneys.  

“My impression of him is that he’s apolitical,” Gensburg recently said in his office.

Several Guantanamo prisoners are legally represented free of charge by Americans.

Gensburg says Zahir deserves a fair trial. Earlier this month, Gensburg got a letter from the federal government listing the prisoners likely to face formal charges. His client is not named. But Gensburg says that doesn’t necessarily mean he will be released.  

It’s not just the prison itself  that rankles Gensburg.  

“It’s what happens there and the violation of legal principals that it represents that’s wrong there,” Gensburg said.

Gensburg says his client is not doing well in prison.

“Both for client confidentiality reasons and also because of limitations of what I am able to say all I can say is that he is in very, very bad physical and mental condition,” he said.

Gensburg says it took him four years to get Zahir to trust him, as he shuttled back and forth to the prison. Fellow St. Johnsbury attorney David Sleigh is helping with  the case. Zahir also has military lawyers, who Gensburg says have been have been excellent.

Another Vermont lawyer, Robert Rachlin, has represented Guantanamo prisoners in the past but is no longer doing so. He says one has been approved for release but needs to find a country who will accept him, and the other has rejected all legal counsel.