THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION has a shameful record when it comes to detainees at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base who assert that they are wrongly being held as "enemy combatants." At first, the administration argued that detainees had no right to consult a lawyer, period. Later, it had to disavow a mean-spirited attack by a Pentagon official on lawyers who had dared to represent "terrorists."
Now the administration is rightly being criticized for asking a federal court to scale back the detainees' access to their lawyers (only three visits once an attorney has been retained) and to place restrictions on attorney-client mail. The rationale for the crackdown is that lawyers have encouraged a hunger strike and other "threats to security" by informing detainees about events in the outside world, including the war in Lebanon and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
Officials at Guantanamo have a right and responsibility to maintain discipline. But, as the president of the New York City Bar Assn. pointed out in a letter to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, there is another explanation for hunger strikes and other unrest at Guantanamo: Many detainees have been held in solitary confinement and haven't received a meaningful opportunity to assert their innocence. In many respects, Guantanamo is still a legal black hole.