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Guantanamo Bay Prisoners' Lawyers Condemn Bush Administration

Guantanamo Bay Prisoners' Lawyers Condemn Bush Administration

WASHINGTON - Lawyers representing some of the hundreds of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay have angrily condemned efforts by the Bush administration to make it more difficult for them to visit their clients. The lawyers say restrictions already in place make their jobs all but impossible.The US Justice Department has requested that a federal court impose tighter restrictions on the lawyers, claiming their visits with prisoners have "caused intractable problems and threats to security at Guantánamo". In a brief to the court the department claims information passed from prisoners to their lawyers and then given to the media.

Lawyers representing some of the 385 prisoners still held at the US Naval base on Cuba yesterday reacted angrily to the accusations leveled by the department. They said what was really driving the request was the US government's desire to further diminish the already severely limited scrutiny that Guantanamo receives.

Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of the UK-based group Reprieve which represents several dozen prisoners, said of the claims: "They say the lawyers have caused unrest, they say we have caused hunger strikes. This is monumental crap. They say we are inciting them. Of course, we have talked to them about their hunger strikes - that is our jobs. But the hunger strikes are done in reaction to their treatment. And any information we gather has to go through the censors."

He added: "This is being done to stop information coming out of Guantanamo. It's being done to stop any journalists finding out what they did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others." Under the proposals, filed earlier this month in Washington DC, lawyers would be restricted to just three visits with an existing client, correspondence they sent to their clients would be vetted by military intelligence officers and government officials would be empowered to prevent lawyers from having access to secret evidence used by military tribunals to decide whether the prisoners were "enemy combatants".

Ever since the prison opened in January 2002 - established to hold alleged suspects rounded up in the so-called war on terror - Guantanamo Bay has been the focus of controversy and countless claims of abuse and torture.

Three British prisoners who were eventually released without charge said they were abused and mistreated.The Bush administration has sought to restrict the amount of information available about the prisoners and their treatment. When alleged 9/11 plotters Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other "high value targets" went before tribunals to assess their status in March, all lawyers and journalists were banned from the proceedings on the grounds of national security. Mr Mohammed - who according to a Pentagon transcript of the proceedings claimed responsibility for a series of terror attacks - said he had suffered abuse at the hands of the CIA.

A Justice Department spokesman yesterday declined to comment on the request, saying the filing to the court should speak for itself. Part of that filing claimed: "There is no right on the part of counsel to access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country."

But lawyers said the government was trying to refuse the prisoners a basic legal right. Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, told the New York Times: "These rules are an effort to restore Guantánamo to its prior status as a legal black hole."

Campaigners have long been fighting for the prisoners to be brought to trial or else released. They appeared to have won a victory last summer when the Supreme Court ruled that they had the right to challenge their detention. However, the Bush administration passed new legislation to circumvent the ruling.

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

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