Fourteen “high-value” terrorism suspects held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks — have been offered the right to request attorneys, the Pentagon said Friday.
“Like all other detainees at Guantanamo, the high-value detainees have the opportunity to contest” their status as so-called “enemy combatants,” Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Defense Department spokesman, told the Associated Press.
None of the prisoners had access to lawyers while they were being held in secret CIA prisons for various lengths of time, nor since they were transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo. Each had “personal representatives” when their cases were taken before review boards in a series of hearings to assess if they could be classified enemy combatants.
When the Pentagon first opened the prison at Guantanamo Bay in 2002, detainees were held without outside contact and were not allowed attorneys. A series of legal challenges has forced the Pentagon to change these restrictions, including allowing prisoners to have lawyers, starting about two years ago.
The Washington Post, which first reported the decision to allow the detainees to seek lawyers in Friday’s editions, said U.S. officials had argued against allowing the 14 access to legal representation without special security measures out of fear that elements of the CIA’s secret detention program or its interrogation tactics could be revealed.
The detainees were given “Legal Representation Request” forms during the last week of August and the first week of September and at least four detainees have requested lawyers, according to the Post report. The process allows the high-value suspects to request that the American Bar Association find them a lawyer “who will represent my best interests, without charge,” the Post reported.
There are approximately 340 detainees currently at Guantanamo, according to the Department of Defense.