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Attorneys Seek Information and Family Access to Severely Ill Prisoners
On October 14, 2005, in Washington, D.C., an emergency hearing on the medical treatment of Guantánamo hunger strikers was held. Judge Gladys Kessler of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia put difficult questions to the government’s attorneys and called the petitioners' allegations of medical mistreatment "extraordinarily disturbing" and "serious" because, if true, the DOD appears to be "needlessly causing" further deterioration of the prisoners' mental and physical health. Several private law firms cooperating with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) argued for access to medical information as well as to their clients in an emergency hearing before Judge Kessler. The attorneys voiced grave concern for their clients’ health, which may have reached critical condition since detainees began a hunger strike on August 8, 2005. The Court ordered the government to respond to petitioners by next Wednesday, October 19.
“We were thrilled that Judge Kessler is treating these reports with the seriousness and care they deserve. Our clients have lost all hope, but as lawyers we have to believe that at some point, justice will prevail. We look forward to receiving Judge Kessler's ruling.” said Julia Tarver, partner with the New York City law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and a CCR cooperating attorney. She represents 10 detainees from Saudi Arabia.
Attorneys for the prisoners sought:
• Access by counsel to records indicating Petitioners' medical treatment, meal schedules, punishment and hospitalization;
• Immediate access to Guantánamo by counsel to visit with and to ensure that clients are receiving adequate medical treatment;
• Copies of the government’s policies and actions taken with respect to the current and previous hunger strikes by detainees at Guantánamo;
• Immediate telephonic access between counsel and clients; and
• Telephonic access between counsel, Next Friends, family members and clients.
During the hearing, the Department of Defense (DOD) would not reveal which detainees are being force-fed and continued to try to avoid court oversight. Petitioners’ counsel revealed that one detainee told his attorney that they were falsely being told the court had ordered the force-feeding.
CCR cooperating attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP emphasized the life-threatening nature of the situation at Guantánamo. They also told the court that the DOD has invited representatives of the American Medical Association to visit Guantánamo and to investigate the medical treatment of prisoners on the hunger strike. Attorneys urged the court to appoint physicians to investigate the medical treatment of detainees engaged in the strike or to consider allowing counsel to bring their own medical experts to Guantánamo. Attorneys also asked that they be able to accompany the AMA representatives if they go.
“We have no doubt that men will die in Guantánamo if the United States government does not abandon its policy of indefinite detention, psychological abuse, and lawless conduct,” stated CCR attorney Gitanjali S. Gutierrez. “The hunger strike is a natural outcome when individuals are imprisoned without legal rights for years on end. The Guantánamo hunger strike is astounding because these men are in the custody of the U.S. military, and these prisoners know that our government has forsaken the fundamental right to due process embodied in the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.