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Letter to the Editor: The Department of Defense responds to this report on the legal status of the detainees at the U.S.-controlled air base at Bagram. Reporter Daphne Eviatar’s response to the letter. Eric Lewis didn’t know much about Ruzatullah’s case when he decided to take it on two years ago. All he knew was that in October 2004, Ruzatullah, an Afghan man in his thirties, was spending a quiet evening at home with his family in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, when U.S. troops forced their way in and searched the place. The soldiers found no guns or other weapons, but they seized Ruzatullah and his brother Inavatullah (many Afghans have only one name) and took them to the U.S. military base at Bagram. Inavatullah was released 15 days later; Ruzatullah remained at the de facto detention center. When Lewis took the case in 2006, Ruzatullah was still in U.S. custody. No charges had been brought against him. His friends and family insisted that he had no connection to terrorists, criminals, or any armed forces. A commercial litigator at Baach Robinson and Lewis–a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C.–Lewis ordinarily represents foreign banks, insurance companies, and governments in fraud and insolvency cases. He heard about the detainees at Bagram from Tina Monshipour Foster, a former attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), where Lewis had been a board member. Foster’s two-year-old nonprofit, the International Justice Network (IJN), provides legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses, as well as linking advocates around the world. The problems she described to Lewis–hundreds of detainees held incommunicado and without charges at Bagram for years, unable to contact family or friends or even to see the evidence against them–drew him in.

“I remember studying Korematsu in law school and thinking, of course, that it could never happen again,” Lewis says, referring to the landmark case of Korematsu v. United States, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the president’s right to force Japanese Americans into U.S. internment camps during World War II. “It became clear that [indefinite detention of foreigners by the U.S. government] was the legal issue of our time.”

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