US District Court Judge Royce Lamberth today blasted the Obama Administration for its attempts to limit Guantanamo Bay detainees’ access to lawyers, saying the move was “an illegitimate exercise of Executive power” and that “access to the courts means nothing without access to counsel.”
The Obama Administration had claimed that because the detainees are being held in a military detention center the Defense Department should have unchecked oversight authority on granting access to lawyers, and began demanding the lawyers sign memorandums of understanding (MOU) agreeing that from then on the military would unilaterally control access to their clients.
The MOUs would after then limit all access to detainees and also limit lawyers’ access to information about the clients’ detention to situations when they proved to the military a “need to know.” The MOU also gave the commander of Gitmo absolute veto power over virtually any decision.
The Justice Department had argued that not only was their MOU system legal, but that the district court had no authority to question the move, saying it was entirely under the purview of the executive branch. They insisted they are “examining” the ruling but didn’t say if they plan to appeal.