A group of lawyers who represent 53 detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, demanded yesterday that the Pentagon grant them unfettered access to their clients, saying that a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week leaves no doubt that the detainees have that right.
Lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents two of the detainees involved in the Supreme Court case, made the demand in a letter faxed to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday afternoon.
They asked for access "as expeditiously as possible," contending that under the Supreme Court's ruling in Rasul v. Bush "there is no question of the right of each of them to file petitions for habeas corpus and to have access to counsel in order to do so."
The center's legal director, Jeffrey E. Fogel, said yesterday that its lawyers have never been allowed contact with the more than four dozen captives they represent at Guantanamo Bay and that such contact is vital to representing their rights in court.
In the letter, Fogel also asked Rumsfeld to allow a delegation of lawyers into Guantanamo Bay to inform the detainees about the Supreme Court decisions, which granted the alleged al Qaeda and Taliban fighters held there access to U.S. courts to contest their detentions.
Pentagon officials said yesterday that they have made no decisions on the impact of the Supreme Court rulings and that there is no plan for informing the nearly 600 detainees about their new rights. Lawrence DiRita, the top Pentagon spokesman, also said that there has been no decision to grant lawyers access to the detainees.
DiRita told reporters yesterday that lawyers with the Defense and Justice departments are still analyzing the decisions to "see what the intent of the rulings was."
He said that Pentagon officials hope to release some detainees through a previously established military review process that is in its beginning phases.
"There's a range of things that are under examination to determine what is the best way to ensure that we're operating consistent with the ruling in the case of Guantanamo. But . . . everybody has a desire not to hold people that need not be held," DiRita said.
Fogel said he believes it is obvious, based on the Supreme Court decisions, that each detainee has the right to an attorney. He accused the Pentagon of trying to delay access, likening the decision-making process to the series of legal memos the government produced in trying to define how far interrogation tactics for enemy combatants could go.
"I think they're doing the same kind of thing they were doing in all those memos," Fogel said. "They're doing the best thing they can to circumvent the law."