San Juan, Puerto Rico Guantanamo Bay prisoners soon could lose access to their lawyers - one of their only contacts with the outside world - because of a new law that eliminates their right to challenge their detention in civilian courts, the lawyers fear.
Even as lawyers are asking a federal court to rule that provisions of the law are unconstitutional, the government is seeking to restrict their access to the isolated Guantanamo military base. And for at least one detainee, the government is trying to ban civilian lawyers altogether.
For now, Guantanamo officials are holding off on restricting lawyers' access to the U.S. base in southeast Cuba, Navy Commander Robert Durand said. Lawyers say doing so will further shroud the detention center in secrecy and could invite abuses.
"If attorneys were kept from visiting Guantanamo, the only information regarding conditions there would be provided by the government," said Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a New York lawyer whose Bahraini client tried to commit suicide at Guantanamo last year as Colangelo-Bryan was visiting him.
Word of hunger strikes, detainee despair, solitary confinement and other details has come from attorneys who have developed relationships with the 430 prisoners - many of whom have been held for almost five years.
The lawyers' main accusation is that the new Military Commissions Act denies their clients the most basic tenet of law: the right to challenge one's imprisonment.
Signed last month by President Bush, the law says no court can hear a petition of habeas corpus - a right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution - from any non-U.S. citizen determined to be an enemy combatant or held under suspicion of being one.