Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Guantánamo Lawyers Lobby Congress


WASHINGTON -- Seventy-five lawyers for nearly 400 Guantanamo Bay detainees urged Congress on Tuesday to give the prisoners access to U.S. courts.
Fanning out across Capitol Hill for private meetings with senators and House members, the attorneys are seeking legislation to overturn a section of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that stripped the detainees of court access.

Under last year's law, the detainees are entitled to a procedural review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia into whether they were properly designated unlawful enemy combatants.

Congress has supported "executive branch extremism" by enacting legislation that overrides Supreme Court rulings, retired federal appeals court judge John J. Gibbons said at a news conference with some of the lawyers. The court ruled in 2004 and a year ago that detainees do have rights.

"We're not talking about a get-out-of-jail-free card; we're simply talking about having a right to be heard in court," said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The center, acting largely on its own, filed the first lawsuits on the detainees' behalf in February 2002, a month after the Bush administration brought the first prisoners to Guantanamo Bay.

Since then, more than 500 lawyers from prominent firms and law schools nationwide have donated their time and paid their own expenses to represent the detainees.