Guantánamo Public Memory Project

The Haitian Guantánamo Bay Experience : The Legal Journey



Video produced by Rachelle Salnave and Phil Bouknight.

This personal memoir is part of the Guantánamo Public Memory Project.
Mr. Ira J. Kurzban litigated over fifty federal cases concerning the rights of immigrants, including Jean v. Nelson, Commissioner v. Jean, and McNary v Haitian Refugee Center, Inc., all of which he argued before the United States Supreme Court. He has also litigated numerous cases under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act, including obtaining a $500 million judgment against Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former Haitian dictator. He was one of the leading attorney’s fighting for the rights of Haitians in Guantánamo.
Guantánamo has become an international symbol of torture, detention, national security, and conflict over America’s “War on Terror.” But this “state of exception” in Cuba has been opened – and closed—for more than a century before 9-11. Facilities for new uses are now being constructed. The 1903 lease with Cuba grants the US total jurisdiction over the bay until both countries agree to end the arrangement. For better or for worse, then, GTMO is open and available for any future administration to use – in the War on Terror or otherwise. How did we get here? What should happen next? Over 100 historians, artists, archivists, activists, and others came together to discuss and debate building a public memory around the US naval station at Guantánamo Bay. They explored the site’s long history and why it matters today more than ever.


The University of Miami is participating in the Guantánamo Public Memory Project‘s National Dialogue and Traveling Exhibit. Opening at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life Windows Gallery in December 2012 and traveling to 9 sites (and counting) across the country through at least 2014, the exhibit will explore GTMO’s history from US occupation in 1898 to today’s debates and visions for its future. The exhibit is being developed through a unique collaboration among a growing number of universities as a dialogue among their students, communities, and people with first-hand experience at GTMO.

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