The Obama administration has begun limiting the legal rights of terror suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, telling a federal judge Tuesday the government alone should decide when the prisoners deserve regular access to their counsel.
In a 52-page filing, Justice Department lawyers said they have started restricting when Guantanamo prisoners can challenge their detention in a Washington-based federal court. If approved, any relaxing of the rules would be made on a case-by-case basis at the exclusive discretion of military officials, not by the courts.
At issue is whether a Supreme Court decision on detainee rights from 2008 gives federal courts the ultimate power to control so-called “habeas” petitions from foreign combatants in U.S. military custody. Volunteer private lawyers say they deserve regular access to their imprisoned clients, even if there is no active habeas challenge pending in court, or any pending charges.
Under the proposed changes, the Navy base commander at Guantanamo would have sole veto power over attorney access, as well as access to classified material, including information provided directly by the detainees from interrogations.
The administration has argued it does not seek to restrict lawyers who have an active legal appeal, but that the rights of detainees shrink once they have filed their first habeas challenge. The military says lawyers must now agree to the new conditions in order to have continued access to their clients and to any classified information the military would deem to release.
And lawyers would be prohibited from using any information they gather that might help the prisoners appearing before a Periodic Review Board. PRBs are newly designed panels of military officials to decide whether a Guantanamo inmate should continue to be held, and whether that person is a national security threat. Those boards were put in place by President Barack Obama by executive order, but have not been fully implemented.
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