Lawyers and judges working on Guantanamo Bay legal cases are showing signs of exasperation at President Barack Obama’s administration, which they accuse of slowing federal judicial procedures for detainees.
Two federal judges tasked with examining cases by five Guantanamo prisoners contesting their detention — a right to habeas corpus granted by the Supreme Court in June 2008 — have made a rare public row of their impatience with government prosecutors.
"Respondent’s counsel violated all three orders," Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote in an unusually harshly worded court document seen Wednesday.
Kollar-Kotelly was referring to an earlier decision that a government lawyer should be removed from the case of four Kuwaitis held at the US military prison in southern Cuba because the attorney repeatedly missed deadlines.
The lawyer’s "compliance was not optional," she wrote, adding that the court "has serious concern about counsel’s ability to read and comprehend its orders."
Another federal lawyer, Emmet Sullivan, expressed outrage at a hearing last week over prosecutors’ delay in providing unclassified documents to the defense in a Yemeni detainee’s case.
"To hide — and I don’t use that word loosely — to hide relevant and exculpatory evidence from counsel and from the court under any circumstance … is fundamentally unjust, outrageous and will not be tolerated," he said, threatening to sanction the government.
"How can this court have any confidence whatsoever in US government to comply with its obligation and to be truthful to the court?" he added, citing "repeated failures" by government prosecutors in complying with the court’s order to provide exculpatory evidence.
The approximately 240 detainees remaining at Guantanamo, some of them held without charge for over seven years, launched appeals in the US District Court in Washington last summer.
But nearly a year later, only a handful of cases have been completed, with the administrations of both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush demanding more time to declassify evidence.
All of the cases have been presided by Richard Leon — a judge nominated by Bush — despite the court being home to 15 judges of different political stripes.
Up until Obama’s inauguration on January 20, "the overall goal of the Department of Justice was to delay this thing until this (Bush) administration was out of office," said David Cynamon, an attorney for the four Kuwaiti detainees.
But three months into the Obama administration, "I haven’t see any change," he told AFP.
Like other lawyers interviewed by AFP, Cynamon said the new administration favors having the Guantanamo prisoners’ cases reviewed by political appointees rather than federal judges.
Obama has established a multi-agency review of the case against each of the remaining detainees and has vowed to shut down the camp by January 2010. But the fate of each individual remains uncertain.
"They are trying to delay these cases until the review team can make decisions without pressure," complained Cynamon.
The Obama administration denies all such allegations, saying it "takes its obligations to the Court very seriously and continues to do everything in its power to meet those obligations in a timely and thorough manner as these habeas cases proceed," according to Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.
Another lawyer, requesting anonymity, told AFP that the review team seemed to be "attempting to delay" the judicial proceedings.
"The Obama administration would probably prefer that some cases stop for a while," he said.
"But the habeas lawyers have represented these men for four or five years and are not content to wait any longer."