WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union and one of the country's leading lawyers' groups, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said Thursday that they had assembled experienced teams of lawyers to defend some of the most notorious detainees at Guantánamo, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has said he was the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The joint statement by the two groups said they were preparing an $8 million program to oppose vigorously the government's prosecutions of at least seven of the detainees who were once held in secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons.
Those detainees, five of whom have been charged with participation in the Sept. 11 attacks, include men who were held in harsh conditions and subjected to aggressive interrogation techniques like waterboarding. The groups portrayed their effort as part of an American tradition of providing vigorous representation to unpopular defendants.
The groups said the Pentagon had not provided adequate financing to military defense lawyers who are to be assigned to represent all detainees charged with war crimes in a process that the groups said permitted convictions based on "secret evidence, hearsay and confessions derived from torture."
They also made clear that the lawyers provided by the groups were expecting to use the detainees' cases to expose what they see as flaws in the Bush administration's war-crimes system. "Our involvement cannot cure the fundamental flaws of this process," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U.
"We are stepping into the ring to make the proceedings as fair as possible because we believe strongly in defending fundamental American values and challenging the government's attempts to stack the deck in its favor."
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A Pentagon spokesman for the Office of Military Commissions, Maj. Bobby Don Gifford, said the military had "gone to great lengths to provide a system that is full, fair and just" and had exercised all possible efforts to provide the resources necessary so that defense lawyers could adequately represent the detainees.
The chief military defense lawyer for the Guantánamo cases, Col. Steven David, said he knew few details of the groups' proposal but welcomed it. "It is a huge development in terms of the resources that might be available to the accused," Colonel David said. A detainee would have the right to accept or reject a lawyer. None of the men the groups are offering to represent has been arraigned at the war-crimes tribunal in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The groups said they had the resources to provide financing for the project, which is to involve paying experienced criminal defense lawyers and death penalty experts. But they said they were seeking foundation grants and other sources of financing.
Many Guantánamo detainees have long been represented by volunteer American lawyers in civil cases contesting their imprisonment, and several detainees who are facing war-crimes charges also have civilian lawyers who have worked with military defense lawyers.
In some cases there has been friction between the civilian and the military lawyers. One lawyer who is involved in the military defense effort said Thursday that there could be tensions over the extent to which legal efforts focus on defending individual detainees and how much they focus on challenging the entire military commission system.
© 2008 The New York Times