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Guantanamo commander backs away from proposed lawyer visit restrictions

[JURIST] Rear Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], has said that he supports so-called "habeas visits" of lawyers with detainees at the facility and no longer endorses visit restrictions along the lines outlined [JURIST report] in a recent US Department of Justice filing [PDF proposed Protective Order] with the US DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The filing, made last week in a case involving Afghan detainee Haji Bismullah, proposed that lawyers only be allowed to visit a detainee once in order to obtain authorization for legal representation, would be permitted only three visits with current clients, and that mail sent to detainees by their lawyers would be subject to review by intelligence officers and military lawyers not involved in the prosecution of a particular detainee's case. Under current rules, there is no limit on lawyer-detainee visits and mail is only searched for contraband, but is not read. The proposal drew immediate criticism from lawyers representing detainees and from the American Bar Association [JURIST report].

In a statement issued Thursday, Harris said the proposal was actually drafted late last summer after a series of camp disturbances but that steps taken since made its strict implementation unnecessary:

JTF-GTMO continues to conduct its operations in an open and transparent fashion. We support counsel access to detainees consistent with our mission to conduct safe, secure, humane, and legal detention and interrogation operations.

The filing in August was made in the shadow of a riot in Camp 4, a mass attempted suicide attempt on that same day, and the suicides of three detainees less than a month later.

The provisions sought in the new Protective Order were considered reasonable at the time. However, we have since been able to adopt procedures to better monitor the detainees and better facilitate attorney visits. Therefore, we would have no objection to the court ordering more than the number of visits that were suggested back in August.
The Miami Herald has more.

Lawyers for several detainees have meanwhile reported that as the legal battles over the detainees' legal rights drag on without a prospect of immediate resolution, the detainees are becoming increasingly unco-operative with their lawyers, rejecting them as powerless and even complicit in the detention system. The International Herald Tribune has more.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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