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Guantánamo: Judge rejects US bid to limit lawyers’ access to detainees

In a strongly worded 32-page decision, a federal judge in Washington rejected the US effort regarding security detainees at Guantánamo, calling it an 'illegitimate exercise of executive power.'

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Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility in this January 11, 2002 handout photo.

REUTERS/DoD/Shane T. McCoy/Handout

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A federal judge in Washington on Thursday rejected a government effort to sharply limit access between private lawyers and security detainees at the US base at Guantánamo Bay, calling the effort “an illegitimate exercise of executive power.”

In a strongly worded 32-page decision, Chief US District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that access by lawyers to their detainee-clients at Guantánamo must continue under the terms of a long-standing protective order issued by federal judges in Washington.

Government lawyers had sought approval to displace the court’s protective order with a so-called Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would allow military officials to establish and enforce their own rules about when and how detainees could have access to legal counsel.

“The government wants to place itself as the sole arbiter of when a habeas petitioner is ‘seeking’ to challenge their own detention and when a habeas case is ‘impending,’ and thus when they can have access to counsel,” Chief Judge Lamberth wrote. “But access to the Court means nothing without access to counsel.”

The MOU would give the government “final, unreviewable power to delay, hinder, or prevent access to the courts,” the judge said.

“The government actions thus far demonstrate that it cannot be trusted with such power,” Lamberth said.

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