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Guantanamo Lawyers Denied Phone Access to Clients

Tensions rise amid hunger strike, invasive raids at the controversial prison

U.S. soldiers walking the hallway of Cell Block C in the 'Camp Five' detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
April 16, 2013 4:50 PM ET

An email obtained by Rolling Stone reveals that a Guantanamo Bay lawyer who represents 11 detainees was denied access to an emergency call to communicate with one of his clients on Tuesday. Defense attorney Carlos Warner requested an emergency call with his client, Fayiz Muhammad Ahmed al Kandari, on Monday morning and received notice that his request had been denied Tuesday afternoon. The Pentagon's refusal to grant Warner's call comes just days after U.S. forces raided the communal prison unit on Guantanamo Bay, resulting in 5 wounded detainees.

"The military is closing ranks and restricting access to clients," Warner said in an email to reporters. "They don't want the public to know what happened during its raid." Warner was told he could re-apply and give the standard 15 days notice – a rule he said he understood was "routinely not followed," though this was his first request for an emergency call.

Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike Worsens as Hopes for Prison's Closing Fade

Al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti, is participating in a hunger strike that began on February 6th and remains ongoing. The Pentagon puts the official number of hunger strikers at 45, but defense attorneys say the number is as high as 130. Warner described al-Kandari as "skin and bones" in late March. Warner hasn't seen his client since their last meeting, but he says he is "very worried about his well-being." A military lawyer visited al-Kandari last week, but according to Warner, al-Kandari was "too weak to attend meetings two days." He came to the third meeting but was "very weak and despondent," though according to Warner he "remains resolved to continue his strike."

Shortly before the raid, the International Committee of the Red Cross had completed a visit to Guantanamo, after which time they acknowledged that force-feeding is taking place at the prison, a practice that the ICRC and groups like Physicians for Human Rights condemn. The Pentagon has argued that it wouldn't be humane to let a detainee die from starvation. Detainees who are force-fed are strapped down while a tube is snaked up their nose and into their chest. A New York Times op-ed written by a Guantanamo detainee on Monday described the process as extremely painful.

"There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach," Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel wrote. "I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone."

The Miami Herald has reported that the White House was aware of the early morning raid on Saturday. Detainees were moved into maximum-security style individual cells, not the communal areas they were previously in. The purported reason for the raid was detainees covering security cameras, in what the Pentagon believed may have been an attempt to waste away while evading surveillance.

There are still 166 people held at Guantanamo, 86 of whom have been cleared for release by an Obama administration review board. Many of those cleared are from Yemen, but an Obama-instituted moratorium on transfers to that country after a failed attack on an U.S. airplane in Christmas of 2009 has meant that men never charged with any crime, who have been determined not to be a security threat, continue to be held without charge.

In a report by the Constitution Project released today, the majority opinion of the panel was that Guantanamo should be shut down, and that cleared detainees should be released. The U.N. high commissioner on human rights has said that the prison is a "clear breach of international law" and called for its closing.

Defense lawyers say that part of the reason for the continuing hunger strike is the psychological trauma that indefinite detention has had on their clients – that they have lost hope that they'll ever leave alive.

"They have no credibility left," Warner says. "It cannot hide what is obvious. The military is at war with the men of Guantanamo."

APRIL 17TH UPDATE: The Pentagon vigorously denies that attorneys are being kept from their clients. "That particular attorney wasn't able to justify an expedited call," Pentagon spokesperson Todd Breasseale tells RS. Breasseale says the government facilitated two phone calls between defense attorneys and clients on Monday, and that there were seven more scheduled for this week.

The Pentagon adds that between March 1st and April 10th, Guantanamo officials arranged 54 calls, 29 of which were expedited, between attorneys and clients, and that there had been 37 in-person visits scheduled in the same period, 6 of which were expedited.

Nonetheless, defense attorney Ranjana Natarajan, who represents a detainee named Obaidullah, contends that given the dire situation at Guantanamo, attorneys are still not being given adequate access to clients. Her team's mid-April request for a visit was denied despite a 10-day notice. She describes what's happening at Guantanamo as a "life or death situation." Asks Natarajan, "If this doesn't qualify as an emergency, what does?"

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