Via Josh Gerstein at Politico.com:
The head of the team of military lawyers defending Guantanamo prisoners has instructed his attorneys to refuse to comply with new policies requiring outside review of their written communications with their clients held at the base, including the prisoners accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
If you hear the words “refuse to comply” used to describe current policies of defense lawyers dealing with military commanders, you know it’s going to get really fun, really quick.
Last month, Rear Admiral David Woods, the new commander of Guantanamo, issued instructions requiring inspection of all mail and other documents defense lawyers send to prisoners facing military commission prosecutions. Woods said the inspection would be conducted by a team of lawyers and law enforcement personnel separate from prosecutors in the cases.
However, defense lawyers have chafed at the new rules. On Sunday, the head of the uniformed military lawyers assigned to defend prisoners before the commissions, Marine Col. Jeffrey Colwell, instructed his subordinates to refuse to comply with the new procedures.
We’re not talking about the wonderful folks down in Miami who provide special “paralegal” services to their drug kingpin clients. Nope, we’re talking about military and civilian attorneys working directly with their indefinitely imprisoned clients–no paralegals allowed.
Colonel Colwell’s comments:
“It is my opinion that these orders, and the following procedures established by them, do not allow you to adequately safeguard attorney-client privileged communications,” Colwell wrote, in an e-mail released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and posted here. “These orders compel you to unlawfully reveal information related to the representation of a client in violation of “a professional rule requiring that client communications be kept confidential,” he said.
The words are measured, but effective (read: Attaboy). Let me translate them into everyday parlance since I’m no longer bound by military customs and courtesy:
“Dear Rear Admiral Woods, you can shove that order right up your star-wearing ass.”*
I was told by my last boss that the attorney-client relationship and privilege is sacrosanct. After researching the definition of sacrosanct, I concurred.
The most powerful, yet basic, tool at our disposal is the fact that communications with our clients are 100% privileged. It allows us to understand them fully. We can speak candidly about everything, and thereby paint their story with every available color on the palette. Nobody. Let me repeat that. Nobody has a right to see (or hear) those communications. Not an admiral, not a court, and not Congress. It is an absolute right and privilege held in high esteem by anyone who thinks that a human being deserves a fair shake.
The President can’t take it away, the courts can’t take it away, the masses gathered outside a courthouse for sensational trials can’t take it away, and some damned fool Admiral can’t either.
*If I knew our dear admiral friend acted from within a vacuum, I’d grant him a bit more courtesy. However, considering that he has oodles of lawyers available at his disposal, he has no excuse.