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The Cuban Iguana and American Jurisprudence

By       Message Peter Honigsberg     Permalink
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      From: Our Nation Unhinged: The Human Consequences of the War on Terror,  by Peter Jan Honigsberg.

In the fall of 2003, attorney Tom Wilner needed to persuade the justices of the Supreme Court that it was in their interest to take the case of a dozen Kuwaiti detainees being held in isolation in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without charges, without a hearing and without access to a lawyer.

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Wilner used three arguments in his elegant petition to the court.  He argued that, under the Constitution, the courts have a critical role in striking a balance between the president’s need to protect our nation’s security and the people’s need to protect the in fundamental  right to a fair hearing with a lawyer present, before a neutral decisionmaker.

Wilner further argued that the administration’s mistreatment of the detainees and the denial of their rights under law had become an international embarrassment.   Here was the opportunity for the Supreme Court to make it right.

In his third argument, Wilner referred to the exam ple of the Cuban iguana. When the Cuban iguana crosses the Cuban border into Guantanamo, it is protected by American law, under the Endangered Species Act.  However, the human beings held prisoner at Guantanamo were not protected under American law.  Wilner concluded that if the Supreme Court does not review his clients’ cases, the Cuban iguana would have greater safeguards than human beings at Guantanamo.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear his case.  

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Professor Peter Jan Honigsberg’s book, Our Nation Unhinged: The Human Consequences of the War on Terror, is published by the University of California Press.

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Peter Jan Honigsberg is a professor of law at the University of San Francisco School of Law. He is the author of the book, Our Nation Unhinged: The Human Consequences of the War on Terror, published by the University of California Press. He has (more...)

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The Cuban Iguana and American Jurisprudence