US lawmakers mull bill to increase scrutiny of Guantanamo lawyers

[JURIST] US lawmakers are currently considering a Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] appropriations bill containing a section that would allow increased investigation by the Pentagon into the practices of lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees. Section 1037 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 [text, PDF] would allow the Pentagon's inspector general to conduct investigations if there is reasonable suspicion that a Guantanamo lawyer is interfering with DOD detention facility operations, violating DOD policy, violating any law that is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the inspector general, or generating a "material risk" to a member of the armed forces. Results from these investigations are reported back to Congress. The American Bar Association [association website] opposes the provision [press release], with President Carolyn Lamm stating Wednesday that the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to investigate and prosecute lawyers for misconduct, not the DOD:

[The DOD legislation] will compromise the professional independence of counsel and divert already starved defense resources from defending clients to defending the conduct, practices, actions and strategies of their lawyers. The American system of justice depends on the essential role of lawyers in counseling their clients. This includes providing zealous and effective counsel, even to those accused of heinous crimes against this nation in the name of causes that evoke our contempt...[Lawyers] who engage in inappropriate conduct or counsel a client to engage in conduct that is criminal or fraudulent are subject to the disciplinary authority of the jurisdiction(s) in which they are admitted to practice.
The provision was proposed in response alleged malpractice [NYT report] by detainee lawyers, specifically allegations stemming from lawyers utilizing the John Adams Project [official website], a research and legal assistance organization. Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL) [official website] claims that researchers from the project supplied lawyers with pictures of interrogators to show their detainee clients. Guantanamo lawyers have rebuffed these statements, saying the pictures were acquired to use in trial for detainees who claim to have been illegally interrogated. Opponents of the bill have asked the provision to be thrown out before it is put up for a vote before the US House of Representatives this week.

The DOD appropriations bill, which was unanimously passed by the House Armed Services Committee [official website] last week, has also been a point of contention in the effort to shut down Guantanamo Bay. If passed, the legislation will prohibit [JURIST report] the Obama administration from modifying or building a facility in the US to hold detainees currently held at the detention facility. The bill requires [summary, PDF] that any plan to construct or modify US facilities to accommodate Guantanamo transfers be "accompanied by a thorough and comprehensive plan that outlines the merits, costs, and risks associated with utilizing such a facility." As the Obama administration has not presented such a plan to Congress, the bill prohibits the use of any funds for the purpose of preparing a US facility for Guantanamo transfers. The Obama administration continues its push to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, despite missing its self-imposed one-year deadline [JURIST report] in January.

 

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