Guantanamo Mail Flub Evades Court Scrutiny

     (CN) – U.S. officials should not be grilled for admittedly withholding papers sent by one of 100 Guantanamo detainees believed to be on a hunger strike, a federal judge ruled.
     Mashour Alsabri has been imprisoned for 11 years in the U.S. Naval Base, held as a suspected member of the al-Qaida cell involved in the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole. at the Yemeni port of Aden.
     His 2008 Detainee Assessment Brief, disclosed by WikiLeaks, ranks him as high risk to U.S. interests, a low threat from a detention perspective and a medium intelligence value.
     A federal judge in Washington denied Alsabri’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2011. The 60-page opinion detailed Alsabri’s travels to Afghanistan at the urging of radical preacher, his stays at suspected al-Qaida guesthouses and his appearance on the roster of a terrorist training camp.
     The chief judge of that district, Royce Lamberth, issued a scathing decision the next summer bemoaning restrictions facing lawyers for Guantanamo detainees and ordering prosecutors to uphold a detainee’s right to counsel.
     Alsabri’s lawyers complained that prosecutors flouted that order when the Department of Justice notified them on Feb. 5, 2013, that it had been withholding legal mail since November.
     Brian Neff, who has been representing Alsabri pro-bono at Schiff Hardin, called for Lamberth to investigate the matter.
     Government lawyers apologized for what they called “one-time, temporary delay,” calling it a “regrettable oversight” caused by their subsequently withdrawn appeal of Lamberth’s decision.
     Stating he would “take the government at its word,” Judge Lamberth declined Monday to hold a hearing to investigate the matter.
     “However, the court is concerned with the continuing erosion of counsel access at Guantanamo,” the five-page order states. “The government’s decision to hold legal mail in this and other cases without notifying the court or petitioners’ counsel or moving for a stay pending appeal after the Counsel Access decision makes it more difficult for the parties and the court to resolve these complicated, thorny cases and threatens the government’s credibility. The government’s decision to curtail flights to Guantanamo has further interfered with petitioners’ counsel’s ability to represent their clients.” (Emphasis in original)
     This situation has gotten worse with the mandatory federal budget cuts caused by the sequestration, Lamberth added.
     “Moreover, attorneys for at least 11 detainees have reported to the Court that the federal sequester has placed a budgetary burden on their offices, forcing them to cancel or postpone visits to their clients,” the order states. “Given that telephone calls to Guantanamo take a minimum of 20 days to schedule, last a maximum of 30 minutes, and are monitored, this has effectively eviscerated many of the protections established over the last decade in court ruling after court ruling.”
     His ruling comes as a hunger strike among Guantanano Bay prisoners reaches its third month and, reportedly, hit triple digits.
     More than 100 are refusing food, and 23 are being fed via nasogastric tubes, the Washington Post has reported.
     The Guantanamo Review Task Force cleared nearly half for transfer.
     Neff said he has not been notified whether Alsabri obtained such a clearance, though he has received such notification regarding other clients. He does not believe that Alsabri is being force-fed.
     Speaking about Lamberth’s decision, Neff said: “We felt that a hearing was warranted, but we do appreciate that the judge recognized in his decision that the government is making it difficult for the lawyers to have access for their clients.”

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