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Guantanamo: Officials Accused Of Reading Letters Between Lawyers And Prisoners

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GUANTANAMO LAWYERS
This file photo shows detainees as they prepare themselves for the evening prayer March 4, 2002, at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by facing towards Mecca. (PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images) | Getty

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Lawyers appointed to represent some of the most notorious prisoners at Guantanamo Bay accused the U.S. government Tuesday of making it impossible for them to do their jobs by improperly reviewing all communications between them and their clients.

Lawyers for six of the "high-value detainees," including prisoners facing war crimes trials for the Sept. 11 attack, sent a letter to a senior Pentagon official urging him to overturn what they said were new policies that violate attorney-client privilege.

The lawyers said in the letter that officials are reading attorney-client communications, which they assert is illegal, violates legal ethical guidelines and will halt the war crimes proceedings that are supposed to resume soon at the U.S. base in Cuba.

"The review and censorship of legal materials will effectively grind litigation to a halt by barring legally required attorney-client communications," the lawyers wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The letter is signed by nine defense lawyers, seven of whom are active military officers, and is addressed to Deputy Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs William Lietzau. Its release is an unusually public criticism of detainee policy by lawyers who are obligated to obey severe limitations on what they can publicly disclose because of the security and secrecy surrounding the high-value detainees at Guantanamo.

One of the lawyers, Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, said the group could not provide details about the new policies at the base or say precisely which communications were being reviewed. He said the new rules were apparently instituted by the detention center commander, Navy Rear Adm. David Woods.

Efforts to resolve the dispute through negotiations have failed and the lawyers will file suit to challenge the policies if they are not reversed, Ruiz said.

"It's gotten to the point where all counsel are saying: 'Enough is enough. You are not taking us seriously; you are not acting in good faith,'" he said.

The communications in question are not classified but, even if they were, all the lawyers representing high-value detainees have security clearances and know not to reveal sensitive information, according to the letter.

Officials at the Pentagon and Guantanamo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter, which comes as the military prepares for the arraignment this month of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi man accused of plotting the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.

Al-Nashiri's lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes, signed the letter and has filed a motion with the military judge asking him to overturn the military policy as well. Military prosecutors have not yet filed a response to his motion, which has not been publicly released because it is still going through a security review.

High-value detainees are held separately from the rest of the prisoners at Guantanamo and they, along with their lawyers, are subject to a more stringent set of security restrictions, with even their precise location on the base considered classified. The high-value prisoners include the five prisoners facing war crimes charges for the Sept. 11 attacks, including self-proclaimed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

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