Judge bars government from listening in to Guantanamo Bay meetings
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – A federal judge ruled Wednesday that terror suspects held in Cuba must be allowed to meet with lawyers, and that the government cannot monitor their conversations.
In a strongly worded rebuke of the Bush administration, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rejected the administration’s argument that the detainees were not entitled to lawyers.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that the then-600 foreign-born men held in the Navy-run prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could challenge their captivity in American courts.
Kollar-Kotelly said that would be impossible without legal help.
“They have been detained virtually incommunicado for nearly three years without being charged with any crime. To say that (detainees’) ability to investigate the circumstances surrounding their capture and detention is ‘seriously impaired’ is an understatement,” she wrote.
She also said it was impossible for the men “to grapple with the complexities of a foreign legal system and present their claim to this court without legal representation.”
Multiple cases have been filed in federal court in Washington on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.
Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling came in the case of three Kuwaiti nationals who have been held since shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Government lawyers had agreed to let the men see attorneys, but argued that was not legally required. The government also wanted to monitor the meetings and review attorneys’ notes – something Kollar-Kotelly said would infringe on the detainees’ attorney-client privilege.
“The court is acutely aware of the delicate balance that must be struck when weighing the importance of national security against the rights of the individual,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
“However the government has supplied only the most slender legal support for its argument, which cannot withstand the weight of the authority surrounding the importance of attorney-client privilege.”
Brian D. Boyle, a lawyer for the Justice Department, had told the judge earlier that allowing the conversations to go unmonitored would pose a national security risk if the lawyers intentionally or inadvertently disclosed classified information.
He said detainees might seek to use their attorneys to pass along dangerous information to family members.
The judge said in Wednesday’s decision that attorneys must have appropriate security clearance to meet with detainees, and that they cannot discuss the conversations with anyone, unless the government agrees.
Last week, lawyers for detainees had complained in federal court that hundreds of people continue to be unjustly held in Cuba because of the Justice Department’s repeated refusal to justify their detention.
More than 500 men from 40 countries are being held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the fallen Taliban regime of Afghanistan.
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U.S. District Court: http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/