Last Thursday, not long after the funeral for his wife’s grandmother, a Boston lawyer named Michael Mone stepped outside a restaurant in Amsterdam, N.Y., to talk on his cellphone with his client, Ali Hussain Shaabaan.
Thirteen years ago, when Shaabaan was 19, he was detained as he tried to cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan. The border guards handed him over to the US military and collected a very nice bounty. He got shipped to the prison in Guantanamo, where some guy he doesn’t know claimed all sorts of things about Shaabaan: that he was a terrorist from Syria, that he came to Afghanistan to wage jihad, that he fought with Osama bin Laden in the mountains at Tora Bora, that he trained to be a suicide bomber. It was a great story, except there wasn’t a shred of evidence, just the word of some shady guy who claims to have the dirt on about half the guys ever held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
“You’re getting out,” Mike Mone told Ali Hussain Shaabaan. “Sunday.”
Shaabaan probably didn’t believe him, but he signed off, saying goodbye the way Mone always ended their meetings: “I’ll see you on the other side.” The other side was the airport at Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, where Mike Mone was waiting when Ali Shaabaan walked off a plane, a free man.
“I don’t think he believed it would happen until he stepped off the plane,” Mone was saying, on the phone from Montevideo. “It was very emotional.”
Mone has argued for years that the case against Shaabaan was the fantasy of a guy who would tell his captors anything they wanted to hear and then some. Shaabaan was cleared for release five years ago, but he lingered in Guantanamo because he’s from Syria, and if he went back to Syria he’d probably be killed. He has no intention of going back, Mone says. He’s learning Spanish.
“There’s no evidence he did anything wrong,” said Mone. “In fact, I just saw a letter the US government gave the Uruguayans, admitting they had no evidence that he did anything wrong, that he was involved in any terrorist activities.”
Jerry Cohen, another Boston lawyer, and Buz Eisenberg, a lawyer in Greenfield, say the same thing about their client, a Palestinian named Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan. Mattan, 35, and Shaabaan were among six longtime Guantanamo detainees who were resettled in Uruguay on Sunday.
Cohen said Mattan is “a very gentle person.” He said claims against him were trumped up, that interrogators thought he was a font of intelligence because two of his uncles are members of Hamas. “He’s alienated from his uncles,” Cohen said, “and they’re alienated from him.”
Cohen and Eisenberg helped a Washington lawyer named Gordon Woodward, who had represented Mattan for years. Lauren Carasik, a professor at Western New England School of Law, helped, too.
Cohen and Eisenberg represented a bunch of Algerians who were released from Guantanamo earlier. When Cohen met with one of the Algerians in Guantanamo, he said, “I have a Jewish name. Do you have a problem with that?”
“No,” the Algerian replied. “You and I are both descendants of the prophet Abraham.”
Cohen smiled. “I was their Cousin Vinny from up North, coming down South to help them in court,” he said.
The Algerians started referring other detainees to Cohen and Eisenberg. The irony of alleged Islamic extremists recommending Jewish lawyers from Massachusetts to all their friends is just one of the ridiculously unlikely things that happened in Guantanamo.
“Mike Mone is from good Irish stock,” Jerry Cohen said, “and during some discussions with the Uruguayan authorities, he quoted from the Talmud.”
What Mike Mone said is basically why American lawyers would go to bat for those deemed, on the most specious of grounds, America’s enemies: If you save one man, it is as if you have saved the entire world.
On Monday night, Buz Eisenberg was at home in Western Massachusetts, singing an Irish song, about freedom.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com