By RICHARD POWELSON
Two civil rights attorneys who have visited with detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp strongly disagreed Friday with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s public statements that prisoners are receiving good health care and regular access to attorneys.
Frist, R-Tenn., toured part of the camp Sunday and gave a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday about the medical care being "better than many Americans" get and suggested they generally are able to "see their lawyers."
Wells Dixon, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, said the center is working with 600 attorneys across the country to try to provide legal aid to about 450 detainees at Guantanamo who want a judicial review of their imprisonment. Another 10 to 15 detainees are working with other counsel, he said.
"The government does absolutely, positively everything that it can to prevent, to frustrate, to delay counsel access to detainees," Dixon said in an interview. He estimated that perhaps only about 20 percent of the detainee population so far has been granted access to an attorney.
Candace Gorman, a Chicago attorney, said she has been working since mid-summer to represent two of the detainees and was denied access to one (Abdal Razak Ali) when she got to Cuba in July despite having a court order to permit access. She plans to return to Guantanamo Monday.
Her other client has Hepatitis B and suspects he is dying of liver cancer and has complained of long delays between tests and seeing medical specialists and getting the treatment he needs. The client, Abdul Hamid Abdul Salam Al-Ghizzawi, cannot even get the government to give him copies of his medical records to show what tests have been done and what they showed, she said.
"Everything is top secret with this administration," Gorman said in an interview. "Even their own medical records."
Gorman said whatever tour Frist was given at Guantanamo was "obviously a walk-through made for the politicians."
Frist said Tuesday that he based his impressions of the prison conditions on visits with several base administrators and tours of five detainee camps and their medical facilities.
Frist could not be contacted about the two attorneys’ complaints. But his aide, Amy Call, said Frist, a former heart and lung transplant surgeon, also received information from health care personnel at the camp.
Dixon said his legal rights organization has received many complaints from detainees about either inadequate health care at Guantanamo or psychiatrists and other medical personnel taking part in painful or traumatic interrogations at the base.
Of Frist’s comment that detainees are getting health care "better than many Americans," Dixon said: "I’d say that’s false unless, of course, he’s referring to the many millions of Americans who are uninsured in the United States. Things are not fine at Guantanamo."
Justice Department attorneys said in written responses to Gorman’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that Guantanamo detainees receive medical care that "is comprehensive and includes, where warranted, full hospital facilities and the use of appropriate medical specialists."
(Contact Richard Powelson of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at http://www.knoxnews.com.)