Guantánamo Detainee's Lawyer Seeks a Voice on WikiLeaks Documents
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WASHINGTON -- A lawyer for a Pakistani prisoner at Guantánamo Bay went to court on Wednesday for permission to read and discuss publicly classified government documents about his client that were obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The New York Times and other publications this week.
The lawyer, David H. Remes, who represents Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman accused of discussing plots against the United States with Al Qaeda leaders after Sept. 11, 2001, filed an emergency petition in the Federal District Court here. Mr. Remes is challenging a Justice Department notice on Monday that appears to prohibit lawyers from publicly discussing the leaked documents.
Mr. Remes, who has devoted his law practice to Guantánamo prisoners, asked the court to order the government to allow him "full and unfettered access to all publicly available classified WikiLeaks documents relevant to Mr. Paracha's case." He says he wants to be able to view the documents on his home and office computers and to "print, copy, disseminate and discuss" them without fear of punishment.
On Monday, the Justice Department's Court Security Office sent a notice to lawyers for Guantánamo prisoners informing them that prison documents obtained by WikiLeaks, now being posted online by the antisecrecy group and several newspapers, remained classified by law.
The notice advised the lawyers, who have been granted security clearances, that they must handle the documents "in accordance with all relevant security precautions and safeguards."
The notice did not explain what was prohibited. But Mr. Remes and other lawyers are concerned that if they view or discuss the documents, they may be stripped of their security clearances or face other punishments. "Losing his clearance will disable him from continuing to represent his current or future detainee clients," Mr. Remes's petition says. "Counsel is concerned that the government may even prosecute him."
A Justice Department spokesman, Dean Boyd, said he could not comment on Mr. Remes's petition, which he said the department would answer in court.
"We're aware that publication of these materials has prompted questions from habeas attorneys about the unusual position they find themselves in," Mr. Boyd said, referring to habeas cases challenging the prisoners' detention. He said the department was studying the issues posed by the disclosure of the documents.
Since last year, when WikiLeaks published or provided to news organizations military reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department cables, government agencies have struggled to respond. In the case of the Guantánamo lawyers, there is a particular irony: people without security clearances can freely read and discuss the documents, while the lawyers cannot.
Mr. Remes included in his petition an article in The Times on Tuesday about Mr. Paracha, whom a classified document described as offering his shipping business to move explosives into the United States. Mr. Remes wrote that because he could not comment on the document, "counsel could not rebut the government's accusations."
First Published April 28, 2011 12:01 am