A chief US military tribunal judge has ruled that the content of attorney-client mail inspected at the Guantanamo Bay prison is confidential and may not be released. Judge James Pohl made the decision earlier this month in the case of suspected USS Cole [JURIST news archive] bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [NYT profile; JURIST news archive], but the decision may also apply in other cases, including the cases of detainees accused of involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks [JURIST backgrounder]. Although the document has not been released by the Pentagon, al-Nashiri's lawyer described the decision to AFP, saying that mail inspectors are "greatly restricted" [AFP report] in sharing "anything they learned with anyone other than the judge." Pohl ruled on motions protesting a new policy [text, PDF] that allows members of a privileged review team to conduct a "plain-view review" of written communications [DOD press release] not marked as protected attorney-client information to ensure the correspondence does not contain physical or information contraband, such as maps of the detention facility. Guantanamo Navy Rear Admiral David Woods [official profile] defended the policy [JURIST report] last month at the opening day of al-Nashiri's pretrial hearings, testifying that it balances his responsibilities to facilitate attorney-client communication while also ensuring security, safety, guard protection and good order at the facility.
Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees have previously raised concerns with practices used at the prison. Earlier this month, James Connell, defense lawyer for suspected 9/11 conspirator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, filed suit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] challenging the order [JURIST report] for military officials to read all legal correspondence between the lawyers of the suspected 9/11 conspirators and their clients. Last month, Chief Defense Counsel for Guantanamo Bay war crimes tribunals, Colonel JP Colwel, ordered [JURIST report] attorneys under his command not to comply with the policy. Woods issued the rules [JURIST report] in December. Lawyers for the prisoners responded with a written memo stating that they did not agree to the rule because it violates attorney-client privilege and would erode their clients' right to counsel that is afforded by the US Constitution [text].