Fetching coffee, filing papers, and of course, the ever important trip to the drycleaners. That’s the sort of picture I had in my head of a typical internship. And my friends and family didn’t help much, offering to teach me how to operate a cappuccino machine, and the importance of holding onto that little numbered ticket from the cleaners.
Despite this dreary prospect, I couldn’t help but be excited about the opportunity to intern at Reed Smith, a law office in DC, with lawyers involved in pro bono work for Guantanamo Bay prisoners. My excitement stemmed largely from the fact that I would finally be doing something about which I had previously only ranted. Ever since my senior year of high school, when I discovered the detention camp at Gitmo (as the pros call it) through a project, I had been railing about the injustices of unlawful imprisonment.
Starting out, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know anything about law apart from a single course here at Marymount. What I found was that being an English major really prepared me for the work I was going to do. Writing, analyzing, and digging through vast piles of information comes from patience you only get from a lifetime of reading and a college career of organizing the information in meaningful ways. I learned that the substance and form of a memo is different from an essay, but the skills required for it are pretty similar.
I spent a lot of time sorting through Combat Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) reports and other documents with equally musical sounding names. As I sifted through the mounds of information, time and again it was the human stories behind the prisoner numbers that jumped out at me. I could not believe, for an instance, that what I had always joked about was true—one of the pieces of evidence presented against a prisoner was that he wore a Casio watch, a watch “commonly used by terrorists in terrorist activities.” Through the lawyers’ correspondence with their clients, I learned of a man missing his son growing up, and of another’s poignant wish to return to the company of others, even if it meant only a switch from Camp 6 isolation to two hours a day within the confines of Guantanamo at Camp 4. Their endurance in the face of such an atrocious deprivation of liberty, and in such oppressive circumstances, was awe-inspiring; their strength in the face of seeming hopelessness a testament to their will.
During my internship I attended congressional hearings (House is better) on Guantanamo Bay and detainee treatment. I wrote memos on subjects ranging from the current political situation in Tajikistan to the definition of an “enemy combatant” in a U.S. District Court of Appeals decision. My capstone project of the summer consisted of synthesizing all of the available unclassified information on clients to allow the lawyers a comprehensive yet concise review of the facts in an easily accessible timeline. I presented and defended my final product to the team. As I went about my assignments, I started to realize that because of the sheer volume of the information, the work I was doing to organize it actually might be helpful.
Aside from the specific focus on Guantanamo, it was a great opportunity to see how a law office really works and take in the atmosphere. The internship affirmed what I hoped it would—that I really do want to go to law school. I learned an incredible amount and maybe in some small way helped a cause I care so much about. It was amazing to work with such dedicated and talented people who were so passionately seeking justice.
And the icing on the cake? I still don’t know whether the lawyers I worked with prefer their morning coffee black or with extra cream.