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Fellowship experience: Jake Romm L’20, G’20

December 13, 2021

Romm is a Catalyst Fellow at Reprieve U.S.

Q: Tell us about your fellowship, including where you’re working, the problems that you’re responding to, and the goals of your project.

A: In October 2020, I began my fellowship at Reprieve U.S. — the U.S. arm of a UK based NGO that, among other things, represents those who have faced abuse and detention during the “War on Terror.”

At Reprieve, I have been working on the Secret Prisons team which deals with issues related to Guantanamo Bay as well as the detention of foreign nationals (i.e. not Syrian or Iraqi) in detention camps in North East Syria. For Guantanamo, much of the work focuses on advocacy related to the Periodic Review Board, which functions as a kind of parole board, recommending release or recommending that people remain arbitrarily, indefinitely, and illegally detained.

The Syria work is focused on repatriation — a number of foreign nationals ended up in ISIS territory for one reason or another and their governments are now refusing to repatriate them from the detention camps, needlessly leaving them and, in many cases, their young children, in terrible and dangerous conditions.

Q: How did your experiences before and during law school lead you to this project or public interest generally?

A: I was inspired to go into this work by Adjunct Professor of Law Alka Pradhan’s class, “Human Rights Post-9/11,” which dealt with the ways in which the U.S. government has used the so-called “War on Terror” as a way to both chip away at domestic civil liberties and brutalize people around the world with impunity.

The problem of Guantanamo was especially glaring and is, I think, a perfect microcosm of the brutality of the U.S. “national security” apparatus — the legal legitimations, the racism and islamophobia, its ties to colonialism, and the insulation of the metropole from the sites of incredible violence. The suffering caused by the “war on terror” is immense, and so much of it rests upon the use and abuse of the law so it seemed only natural that I should use my legal education to help fight back.

Q: Thus far, what accomplishment during your fellowship are you most proud of?

A: As far as work I’ve done while at Reprieve, I am particularly proud of the work I was able to do for one of our Guantanamo clients, Asadullah Haroon Gul, or, as we call him, Asad.

Asad is the last low value Afghan detainee at Guantanamo, and his habeas corpus case, which recently went to trial, presented novel legal issues regarding the duty to repatriate prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions and U.S. law as well as the contours of the U.S.’s detention authority with respect to the “War on Terror.”

As a part of Asad’s legal team, I helped draft briefs on the legal contours of the duty to repatriate and the end of hostilities in international and domestic law, compiled research on issues pertaining to the U.S. detention authority, and assisted with the preparation of trial materials at the secure records facility in Washington, D.C., for which I was required to attain security clearance. It was an extremely rewarding experience and an incredible opportunity to help litigate such fascinating and important issues.

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