Last year Congress negated habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees. Now the U.S. Department of Justice has requested that a DC appeals court limit civilian lawyers' access to Gitmo clients to three visits. The DOJ has also requested the right to read correspondence between lawyers and detainees.
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When it opened Guantanamo as a detention center, the Bush administration determined that so-called enemy combatants do not have the privileges of the Geneva Convention, nor the legal status of civilians. Instead, says the DOJ, the U.S. military has the right to detain combatants indefinitely, until they no longer pose a threat or until the war on terror is over - a nebulous timeframe, given the conflict in question.
As for access to lawyers, the DOJ wrote in its request that "There is no right on the part of counsel to access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country."
When New Times went to Gitmo last year, civilian lawyers visiting clients there repeatedly emphasized that were it not for their presence, the detention camp would be a legal black hole. At that time many of them cited that habeas corpus -- the right to stand before a judge and be presented the evidence of one's crime - is not only a part of the Constitution, but also the fundamental value that differentiates our society from the absolute rule of monarchy.
One lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, went so far as to quote Thomas Paine: "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." Swift was forced out of his job in the Navy last year. --Emily Witt