WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is urging a federal appeals court to clamp down on Guantanamo prisoners' ability to see their attorneys and obtain government records to help challenge their detentions.
As the legal battle over the detentions moves to a new arena, the Justice Department is trying to tightly restrict the tactics that a persistent and largely volunteer group of defense lawyers can use to challenge the government's basis for holding their clients.
In recent court filings, the Justice Department argues that defense lawyers' visits to the prisoners "cause unrest on the base," including hunger strikes and protests and that they are often a pretext for obtaining accounts from the detainees to relay to the media.
The effort to restrict detainees' access to lawyers and documents comes as the fight over their fate moves out of a federal trial court - which was often at odds with the administration's assertion that it could hold them indefinitely without charges - to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which generally has been more supportive of the president's claim of broad powers in fighting terrorism.
In recent filings to the appellate court, the Justice Department argued that detainees should be allowed three visits with their attorneys, instead of an unlimited number. The government said more visits were unnecessary because the clients' testimony and views were not needed for the kind of limited appellate-court review now allowed by the law.
The department also argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals should not consider new evidence or information in reviewing Pentagon decisions about continued detention. The court should take into account only the facts that a military combatant status review tribunal considered in determining that each detainee should be held, the government argued.
The government has rejected attorneys' demands for other records, saying it would determine what records were relevant.
Many of the approximately 380 foreign nationals at the U.S. Navy prison in Cuba have been imprisoned for years.