Detainees' rights subverted at Guantánamo, their lawyers say
A federal judge asks for statements from two guards accused of threatening a detainee.
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"Our guard force is highly trained and professional," Cmdr. Pauline Storum, a spokeswoman for the Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF), wrote in an e-mail. "They operate in the most ... scrutinized of environments and do so honorably. We go to great lengths to facilitate attorney-client privilege.... JTF remains committed to the safe and humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees."Skip to next paragraph
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But lawyers claim that violations of the attorney-client privilege are routine. "It's typical for guards to read through legal papers and confiscate them as a form of punishment," says David Remes, the legal director of Appeal for Justice, a human rights litigation firm. He recalls an incident when notes he took during meetings with his clients arrived in Washington for a classification review with "all the seals broken and the flap of the envelope opened."
The 2004 protective order established a separate system to allow detainees and lawyers to communicate rapidly. A special privilege review team made up of Department of Defense censors monitors the correspondence, checking it for physical contraband. Once approved – correspondence cannot include mentions of intelligence, security, current political events, or news about other detainees – the mail is to be delivered in confidence to clients within two business days.
"Breaches of attorney-client privilege are par for the course," says Brent Mickum, a Washington-based lawyer representing high-value detainee Abu Zubaydah as well as others since freed from the facility. He recounts that when he sent letters to his clients recommending that they not participate in the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), a military panel deciding whether prisoners are enemy combatants, his correspondence was delivered a day after the client's review in each case.
"It's clear that the military opened my mail, looked at it, and made the conscious decision not to deliver it until after the CSRT," he says.
Military rules protect detainee rights
The military says it follows strict rules that don't allow such violations.
"Camp guards are not permitted to read a detainee's legal mail," writes Commander Storum. "When guards conduct routine searches, they are authorized to search open envelopes containing any type of mail for physical contraband. We go to great lengths to facilitate attorney-client privilege while maintaining the security of the guard force and the detainees."
Lawyers also claim that military personnel regularly interfere with attorney-client relationships. "Being able to explain to [clients at Guantánamo] what our role as attorneys is and being able to convince them that we work in their interest has been terribly difficult," says David McClogin, an assistant federal defender in Philadelphia,
Mr. Remes and others claim that interrogators and guards often told their clients that having legal representation would be counterproductive and delay their release from the facility.
He adds that interrogators also impersonate lawyers. "They'd send in people pretending to be lawyers, but it would be so transparent that they were working for the government that prisoners were left with a tremor of doubt," he says. "When we showed up, they had to worry if we were for real."