Detainee Lawyer Discusses Gitmo Conditions

In an interview reported in the Wall Street Journal’s law blog today, New York City lawyer Sarah Havens says years of harsh treatment have worn down clients she represents who are being detained at the Guantanamo military prison. However, the presence of habeas attorneys has helped improve conditions, she contends.

“When we first started, all of our clients had a great deal of faith in the U.S. legal system, which I found interesting,” said Havens, an Arabic speaker whose law firm represents 10 Yemeni detainees held at the prison since 2002. Now, however, they are “getting more and more depressed” as their indefinite confinement continues.

Asked by the paper to provide examples of mistreatment, Havens explained, “They keep things like food items in their cells, or they don’t want to go take a shower at the appointed time … and a typical government response is to send an ‘immediate reaction force’ of four guys wearing riot gear who go into a cell.” One client, she said, ended up with a broken jaw “from this process.”

However, an unidentified Defense Department official described this allegation as “merely an allegation from a habeas attorney. Camp rules must be followed,” the official said, “for the good order, discipline and safety of the detainees and the guard force.”

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