Detainee Legal Mail to Be Reviewed

Yet another slam against the most basic of rights, attorney-client privilege. What the government does to detainees, it will do to citizens as well. Recall the passage of NDAA recently, which allows detention of American citizens without trial. -ed.


The prison commander at Guantanamo Bay issued new rules allowing prison staff to examine mail between military-commission defendants and their lawyers, renewing a dispute with defense attorneys who say communications with their clients should remain confidential.
In a 21-page memorandum signed Tuesday, Rear Adm. David Woods said that teams—which include Defense Department attorneys and intelligence and law-enforcement personnel—assigned to review attorney-client correspondence for “physical contraband” such as paper clips could also seize and keep written materials if they “appear to violate” restrictions.
Adm. Woods began tangling with defense attorneys soon after taking command earlier this year at the prison on the U.S. naval base in Cuba where suspected terrorists are held. He directed staff to seize the mail bins of detainees expected to face military-commission trials, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In a separate case involving the review of detainee mail, a military judge at Guantanamo ordered prison officials in a ruling last month to stop reading mail between Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the alleged planner of a 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and his attorneys. The military judge, Col. James Pohl, said that prison staff may review Mr. Nashiri’s mail “only to ensure each page in the envelope is properly marked” as legal mail.
Defense attorneys criticized Adm. Woods’s new rules, saying they could allow authorities to review drafts of legal motions or evidence they may wish to share with their clients.
“Our clients are being charged with capital offenses,” said Cmdr. Stephen Reyes, a military attorney who is representing Mr. Nashiri. “They have to be certain that the attorney-client privilege is kept.”
Cmdr. Reyes said he believed the new order applied to the Nashiri case. However, a Guantanamo spokeswoman said it didn’t, because Mr. Nashiri is covered by Col. Pohl’s ruling regarding his mail. Col. Pohl’s ruling doesn’t apply to other detainees, she said. The five detainees accused of planning the Sept. 11 attacks have no judge yet because charges against them haven’t been finalized.
Adm. Woods’s memorandum says the new rules are necessary for “safety and security” on the base. They define broad categories of information that detainees may not receive. However, the document also appears to include various exceptions.
The dispute is “symptomatic of the problems” created by military-commission trials, which Congress authorized to prosecute suspected terrorists without affording them rights required by federal courts, Cmdr. Reyes said. “Basic questions like this are already answered in federal court,” he said. “Here, we’re still arguing about it.”
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