Justice lawyers refuse to take detainee cases
The government's justification for the imprisonment of hundreds of detainees at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has been repudiated not once but three times by the U.S. Supreme Court. But it turns out it's not just outsiders who are taking issue with Justice Department policies. Up to one fourth of the department's own civil appellate staff has recently opted out of handling the government's case against detainees' appeals, U.S. News has learned.
These conscientious objectors have decided not to take part in the government's litigation against the detainees because they disagree with the legal approach, say two sources familiar with the matter. They would not elaborate, but critics have long objected to the government's failure to formally charge detainees and have pushed for closing Guantánamo because of allegations of torture and inhumane conditions. Defense lawyers also contend that the government has stymied them by withholding documents and limiting client access to counsel.
The quiet rebellion emerged among the approximately 56 attorneys in the appellate section of the Justice Department's civil division after a February court ruling placed the handling of the roughly 130 remaining Guantánamo challenges under the division's charge. More than 300 men captured after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 are still being held at Guantánamo over alleged ties to terrorists, although all but a handful have never been officially charged with crimes.
Though the objectors have created some tension among the appellate staff, it is not clear that their opposition has hampered the government's efforts. For one thing, the court ruling is slated for review by the Supreme Court this term. But the staff attorneys' objections highlight just how much dissension has grown.
Justice Department spokesperson Charles Miller declined comment.
This story appears in the September 10, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.