- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) Big Libowitz played a lawyer on TV before he became one in real life. Now he’s bringing his entertainment-industry expertise to the debate over the rights of suspected enemy combatants.

Working from transcripts of the U.S. military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Mr. Libowitz crafted a 30-minute screenplay. “The Response” imagines one such tribunal, then follows three military judges into the deliberation room, where they try to answer the key question about Guantanamo: How do you balance civil liberties and national security?

That debate was enough to lure three well-known actors to join Mr. Libowitz in a mock courtroom at the University of Maryland Law School, where “The Response” was shot over three days, for hardly any money.

“Most Americans are not aware of what is happening in these tribunals — really not aware enough, in my opinion, of what is going on at Guantanamo,” says Aasif Mandvi, who plays the suspected combatant. “It’s just a really important little film, and I hope that people see it.”

Mr. Mandvi is perhaps best known as a fake news correspondent on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” but on Friday, he was clad in a beige prison jumpsuit and a Muslim skullcap and shackled to the floor of the courtroom.

Also appearing are Kate Mulgrew, who starred as Capt. Kathryn Janeway for seven seasons on “Star Trek: Voyager,” and Peter Riegert, who gained fame in “Animal House” and more recently played a lawyer on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and a corrupt politician on “The Sopranos.”

Miss Mulgrew, Mr. Riegert and Mr. Libowitz — who played a Hasidic Jew with mob ties on “The Sopranos” and a public defender on “Law & Order” before getting his law degree at the university — portray the judges.

The film offers an unprecedented re-creation of the proceedings at Guantanamo, the U.S. military base in Cuba where the Bush administration opened a detention facility shortly after the September 11 attacks to hold people suspected of ties to al Qaeda or the Taliban. As of late December, about 275 people were being detained there.

The terror suspects have no recourse in civilian courts. Their only opportunity to profess their innocence comes in the tribunals, which are intended to determine whether they are properly classified as enemy combatants.

The suspects appear before three officers who act as judges. They get no legal representation and are not permitted to review evidence against them. If the judges determine that they are combatants, they can be detained indefinitely.

Law school professor Michael Greenberger, a former Justice Department counterterrorism official who consulted with Mr. Libowitz on the script, says Guantanamo has inspired debate about the constitutional guarantee of habeas corpus — the right of individuals being detained to challenge their detention before a judge.

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge to the law that bars suspected combatants from challenging their detention in court, and a majority of the justices appeared poised to declare the law unconstitutional. A ruling is expected this spring.

Mr. Libowitz says he felt it was important to explore both sides of the debate — the need to protect the country and the need to give people an opportunity to defend themselves.

“This is not an agitprop film,” he said. “This is really something that takes a look at what’s going on there from a very fair-minded perspective.”

Ultimately, “The Response” leaves the audience with the task of determining whether the detainee is truly a terrorist.

The movie was funded by the law school’s Linking Law and the Arts series, which attempts to address complex legal issues through theater and art.

It’s not clear who will see “The Response.” Law school Dean Karen Rothenberg says she envisions it as an educational tool to be shown at other law schools, colleges and high schools. She and Mr. Libowitz also plan to shop it around to film festivals and seek television distribution.

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