WASHINGTON — Fourteen "high-value" terrorism suspects who were transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from secret CIA prisons last year have been formally offered the right to request lawyers, a move that could allow them to join other detainees in challenging their status as enemy combatants in a U.S. appellate court.
The move, confirmed by Pentagon officials, would allow the 14 their first contact with anyone other than their captors and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross since being taken into custody.
The prisoners, who include Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, have not had access to attorneys during their year at Guantanamo Bay or while they were held, for varying lengths of time, at the secret CIA sites abroad. They were entitled to military "personal representatives" to assist them during the administrative process that determines whether they are enemy combatants.
U.S. officials have argued in court papers against granting lawyers access to the high-value detainees without special security rules, fearing that attorney-client conversations could reveal classified elements of the CIA's secret detention program and its contested interrogation tactics.
Defense officials gave the detainees "Legal Representation Request" forms during the last week of August and first week of September, and sources familiar with the process said at least four detainees have requested lawyers so far.