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Military Officials Cancel Guantanamo Visits by Lawyers and Journalists

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lawyers who represent detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been barred from visiting their clients at the base this week, apparently the result of an ongoing investigation into three suicides there on Saturday, according to officials with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents hundreds of the detainees.

The cancellation of the regular visits was an unusual move for base officials and came at nearly the same time that the Pentagon decided to suspend the trips of three journalists who were at the base reporting for the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald and the Charlotte Observer.

Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said yesterday that she was suspicious of the sudden ban on visits and plans to file a motion in federal court in Washington today seeking immediate access to clients. In a teleconference with a magistrate judge in Washington yesterday, government officials said they were using all available guards at the prison to facilitate a Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe into the three suicides and could not supervise visits by lawyers, Olshansky said.

She said government lawyers indicated the base would reopen to lawyers on Monday, and Pentagon officials said planned visits by journalists likely would resume next week.

Lt. Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an e-mail response to questions late Tuesday night that the reporters were asked to leave the base because the military trial hearings they were there to cover had been canceled and because other media outlets had threatened to sue if they were not granted similar access after the suicides.

Gordon referred questions about the lawyers' access to Cmdr. Robert Durand, a spokesman at Guantanamo Bay, who did not return e-mail requests for information yesterday afternoon. The telephone at the military's Guantanamo Bay media office rang unanswered.

Military officials have indicated that they are "disappointed" that three detainees were able to take their own lives, apparently using makeshift nooses fashioned out of clothing and bedsheets. They became the first detainees to die at the facility since it opened in early 2002. But the officials dismissed claims that the deaths were the result of the detainees' hopelessness and described what appeared to be a coordinated pact of "asymmetric warfare" to gain international attention.

The suicides have done just that, prompting renewed calls from around the world to close the facility and repatriate the detainees.

President Bush said yesterday that he believes the facility sends the wrong signal to U.S. allies and should be closed, but only after U.S. officials work out ways to send the detainees to their home nations or put them on trial. The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the current system of military trials, known as commissions. Ten Guantanamo Bay captives have been charged so far.

"I'd like to close Guantanamo," Bush said at a Rose Garden news conference. "But I also recognize that we're holding some people that are darn dangerous and that we better have a plan to deal with them in our courts. And the best way to handle -- in my judgment -- handle these types of people is through our military courts."

The number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, now 460, may be reduced. U.S. officials have been planning for some time to transfer detainees, including nearly 100 Afghans, back to their home nations.

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