Lawyers for four Kuwaiti men held at Guantanamo Bay have asked a court to block U.S. military prosecutors from contacting the detainees without their consent, accusing the government Monday of violating legal ethics.
The emergency petition, filed last week in a Washington appeals court, raises concerns over a recent assertion by Guantanamo's chief prosecutor that he does not need the lawyers' permission because they do not represent the detainees before the war-crimes tribunal system.
But Matthew MacLean, a Washington-based attorney for the Kuwaitis, said the Kuwaitis and U.S. federal courts have recognized him and a colleague as the legal representatives — and alleged that government interrogators have told his clients their lawyers are Jewish in a bid to sow mistrust.
"Are these prosecutors bound by the rules that are binding on all prosecutors everywhere?" MacLean said. "Or are these prosecutors going to be allowed to be cowboys, doing whatever they want?"
The case goes to the heart of complaints by many detainees' lawyers, who say the challenges in accessing their clients on sporadic visits to the isolated U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba make it more difficult to establish their trust.
The chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo tribunals, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said in an e-mail that was sent to MacLean on Feb. 26 and submitted with the court filing that the government "certainly" can have contact with the Kuwaitis regardless of the attorneys' representation.
A spokesman for the Pentagon office that runs the tribunals said he was pursuing prosecutors' reaction to the filing.
The petition is one of the first cases before the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, which the Pentagon created last year to hear appeals from the tribunal system. On Monday, the court ordered the government to file a response by week's end, MacLean said.
President Bush said during a trip to the Middle East in January that two of the last four Kuwaitis held at Guantanamo will be charged, but he did not say which and prosecutors have not revealed further details. Eight other Kuwaiti detainees have been sent home.
The U.S. military plans to charge about 80 of the roughly 275 men held at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to the Taliban or al-Qaida. Fourteen detainees have been selected for prosecution, but so far none of the cases has gone to trial.