Chief US District Judge Royce Lamberth has long had a reputation for being a fiery jurist, but in yesterday's opinion on Guantanamo Bay detainees' access to counsel, Lamberth conveyed his understandable outrage with the government. Mincing no words, Lamberth accused the Executive Branch of infringing on the Judiciary's duty to protect individual rights, particularly the right to Habeas Corpus.
A little history here. It took Gitmo detainee attorneys more than 2 years – and a trip to the Supreme Court – to finally gain the right to visit and talk to their clients. Even then, the attorneys were forced to operate under severe restrictions designed to inhibit communication.
The Gitmo cases at hand involved the latest government attempt to obstruct detainees' access to counsel despite the fact that, as Lamberth put it,
In a litany of rulings, this Court and the Supreme Court have affirmed that the Federal courts are open to Guantanamo detainees who wish to prove their indefinite detentions are illegal.
The government sought to replace a judicial Protective Order regulating the process for detainees' access to counsel, which the courts oversaw, with a "Memorandum of Understanding" that access would be overseen entirely by the Executive Branch, which would inhibit detainees' ability to meet with counsel and petition the courts. Lamberth was having none of it.
Judge Lamberth's well-reasoned opinion speaks for itself. Key quotes:
The Government's reasoning is substantially flawed and confuses the roles of the jailer and the judiciary in our constitutional separation of powers scheme.
If the separation-of-powers means anything, it is that this country is not one ruled by Executive fiat. Such blanket, unreviewable power over counsel-access by the Executive does not comport with our constitutional system of government.