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"Not the Actions of a Proud Democracy"

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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April 26, 2007

As promised, here’s some follow-up on that Times story this morning on DOJ attempts to restrict lawyers’ access to the detainees at Gitmo. First off, the ACLU response. Here’s Executive Director Anthony Romero’s statement:

Rather than closing Guantanamo and restoring the rule of law, the President now wants to close Guantanamo to lawyers, to outside scrutiny, and to the bedrock protections of habeas corpus. If it remains open, the Guantanamo prison needs more openness, not less.Creating a legal black hole where rights are denied is as un-American as it is illegal. Depriving detainees of the right to meet with lawyers and monitoring mail communication between attorneys and their clients are not the actions of a proud democracy. It is time to close Guantanamo once and for all, and to either charge or release the detainees held there.

The story also follows on the heels of long-standing allegations by the Gitmo defense bar that the government has sought to mess around with access to counsel. Some of the most spectacular allegations were made by Sherman & Sterling partner, Tom Wilner, who claimed that two Kuwaiti detainees were told by interrogators that he couldn’t be trusted because he is Jewish.Another persistent problem, mentioned in the Times story, is the fact that defense lawyers often have to convince their clients that they are in reality lawyers—not interrogators. With the limited access afforded by the DOJ proposal, fostering that trust is going to be a far taller order than before.The government’s move today also underscores the ad hoc, fly-by-night nature of the military detention policies post-9/11. The rules of the game keep changing midstream, which is the exact diametric opposite of the rule of law. The point of any system is to be systematic. And this is even more important for a system built to separate the truly guilty from the unjustly detained innocent. And a system without a secure, reliable and certain foundation is ultimately going to collapse in on itself, just like a building, or a Jenga tower.The rule of law needs hard and fast rules. Close Guantanamo—charge or release. Say it with me, people. Go to your windows and say it.

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