Canadian emerges as voice for detainees – With the American Civil Liberties Union, Canadian Jameel Jaffer has forced revelations about prisoner torture and death in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay
From The Globe and Mail
After clerking for the Chief Justice of Canada, Jameel Jaffer moved to Manhattan from Ottawa to start a career in corporate law. The Harvard-educated lawyer was poised to reap a small fortune on Wall Street. It was the summer of 2001 and he had not quite turned 30.
That September, he found himself among one of the millions shaken by the 9/11 terrorist attacks – and America’s response. He headed across the Hudson River to do some pro bono work inside a New Jersey detention centre. There, he found himself speaking to a young Afghan from Kandahar, who, like hundreds of other immigrants, had overstayed his visa.
The Afghan was crying as he complained of being locked away as a trumped-up terrorism suspect, stripped of his most essential rights. “He was just completely lost,” Mr. Jaffer recalls. “I was just a corporate lawyer and he thinks, ‘Here is this lawyer who can help me.’ … I was the only link this guy had to the outside world.
“It’s impossible to go from a situation like that,” he says, “and go back to your day job.”
So, he quit – and traded his Wall Street gig to join the American Civil Liberties Union, where he has emerged as a leading voice for those caught in clandestine U.S. detentions around the globe, and helped force the disclosure of 130,000 pages of classified documents chronicling abuse, torture and death during the war on terror.
Sitting in a Montreal café recently after delivering a speech at McGill University, Mr. Jaffer recalls the early days in 2002, when he took a huge pay cut to join a group of young civil-libertarians poking around on the terror file. If U.S. agents were rounding up foreigners indiscriminately at home, they wondered, what might they be doing abroad?
The ACLU spent years on the paper chase. The lawyers filed Freedom of Information requests. They fought in court for top-secret documents. They tried and tried to obtain classified memos and e-mails buried deep within the bowels of the White House, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.
“Nobody thought we’d get very much,” said Mr. Jaffer, now 38 and still a Canadian citizen.
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