If it's ever made into the movie for which it's already been purchased, Storming the Court may do as much to romanticize lawyers as All The President's Men did to glamorize journalists. The book tells how Yale law professor Harold H. Koh, a handful of his students and a few fellow lawyers repeatedly went to court against the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to gain the right to provide legal services to a group of Haitian refugees imprisoned in 1992 at Guantanamo Bay.
Thousands of people had fled Haiti following the 1991 military overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Some of these the U.S. granted asylum, but most were sent back or confined at Guantanamo. Eventually, the Coast Guard began intercepting the refugees on the high seas and, contrary to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951, returning them without the benefit of review.
Author Brandt Goldstein was himself a law student at Yale while all this was going on, but he was not one of the activists. Relying on multiple interviews with the principal players, court documents and contemporary news accounts, he spins out a fast-paced and cinematically vivid thriller. Besides covering the seesaw court actions and the behind-the-scenes struggles accompanying them, Goldstein also presents the concurrent story of Yvonne Pascal, an Aristide supporter who has had to escape without her husband and children and who ends up at the Guantanamo prison camp leading a hunger strike.
Goldstein portrays Koh and his students as impassioned idealists who must take their chances and lumps in a world of harsh and uncaring politics. One of their adversaries is the ubiquitous Kenneth Starr, then Bush's solicitor general. Koh and company expect the government to be more compliant on the issue of the Haitians once Clinton comes to power. But it isn't. The little band of advocates win the immediate goal of freeing this particular group of prisoners, including the heroic Pascal. But they fail to set the precedent that due process shall apply to Guantanamo as more recent cases have demonstrated. Still, this is a tale that warms the heart even as it clenches the jaws.