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Lawyers Petition for Guantanamo Bay Detainees to Consult With Attorneys - 2002-12-07


A legal team is petitioning to allow men detained by the United States to consult with attorneys and see their families. The men are being held at a U.S.-run facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. government argues it can hold the men incommunicado for an indefinite period.

Lawyers for some of the Guantanamo detainees are asking a U.S. court to order the government to lift the isolation of their clients. In arguments filed with a U.S. appeals court here in Washington, lawyers representing the families of 16 detainees, who include Britons and Australians, say their clients have legal rights.

Michael Ratner, one of the attorneys, says their status as detainees should be reviewed by the courts. "My hope is and my only hope, really is that in the next period of time, the next year or two, the U.S. will look at what the U.S. is doing here or what the government is doing here, and say that, look here, these people should have some legal rights, they should get in front of a court somewhere and the evidence the government has should be tested," he says. "Otherwise, it is a legal black hole, where people are being put into a place. And to me it's like a Devils Island, almost, where people just get put there and you never hear from them again. What happened to them?"

About 600 people, some captured in Afghanistan, others detained as terrorist suspects, are being held at a U.S. military run facility at Guantanamo Bay. They are being held indefinitely with no access to lawyers or family. U.S. officials say they are being held there not only to prevent them from aiding terrorist efforts, but to extract intelligence information from them.

U.S. Justice Department attorneys declined to be interviewed on the matter, saying they would not comment on a pending legal case. However, the Justice Department legal brief filed with the court gives the government side of the argument.

The argument centers around a narrow issue, whether a U.S. court has jurisdiction over men being held at Guantanamo Bay base, which the United States has leased from Cuba for nearly 100 years.

U.S. officials argue that although the base there is under U.S. control, it is on foreign soil, and therefore anything that occurs there is out of the reach of U.S. courts.

So far, lower courts have backed up the government view. In July, a lower court judge ruled that the Guantanamo base is not a formal part of the United States and that the detainees are therefore not entitled to U.S. legal protections.

If the court rules against the detainees in this latest appeal, it will mark another important legal victory for the Bush administration, which has come under fire from some civil libertarians for some of its anti-terrorist measures.

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