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DOJ may appeal ruling on Guantanamo prisoner access to counsel

The US Depatment of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a notice of appeal [text, PDF] in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] opposing a ruling [JURIST report] rejecting the government's argument that they should be allowed to set certain rules regarding Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] detainees' access to counsel. The administration's filing is to extend time for a decision to officially appeal. A representative of the DOJ spoke to Politico [media website] and stated a final decision has not been made [Politico report]. The government is seeking authority to set visitation and communication rules for the detainees without court approval. They argue that, once a habeas petition is terminated, the 2008 Protective Order [order, PDF] expires and the executive has the prerogative of assuring counsel access. This argument was rejected in a harshly worded opinion [PDF] by a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] that characterized the attempt as an overreach of executive power.

The notice of appeal is the latest development in the Guantanamo Bay prisoner debate. Earlier in August the DOJ filed a brief with the court asserting that the government should decide [JURIST report] when a Guantanamo prisoner is granted continued regular access to legal counsel absent a detainee's ongoing habeas or other legal challenge. The challenge to the new restrictions was brought by six Guantanamo detainees, two of whose habeas petitions were denied and four dismissed with the possibility of reconsideration. At the time of the hearing lawyers for only six of the 170 detainees at Guantanamo had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) [memorandum, PDF]. In the 10 years since the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay, only a handful have been tried or convicted, and in the past few months there have been several calls by the UN and various foreign governments for some long-held Guantanamo detainees to be returned to their home countries, including Egypt, Canada and Kuwait [JURIST reports].

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