Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at US military attempts to threaten and discredit British lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, who is defending an Al-Jazeera cameraman, Sudanese citizen Sami Al-Haj, held at the US navy’s Guantanamo Bay base since 13 June 2002. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is trying to claim that Stafford-Smith encouraged three Guantanamo Bay detainees to commit suicide.
“Do the Guantanamo military authorities think they can escape blame for the inhuman treatment of their detainees by making such stupid and crass accusations against Stafford-Smith?” Reporters Without Borders asked. “Defence rights are constantly flouted at Guantanamo. Lawyers can barely get access to their clients. It is hard to see how a lawyer could advise three detainees to commit suicide when he was not even defending them. This alone is sufficient grounds to close the camp.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The failure to execute the supreme court decision of 29 June invalidating special military tribunals and the attempts by congress now to hastily create a legal basis for Guantanamo clearly show that the US authorities are trying at all costs to make us forget that most of the detainees have never been charged. We reiterate our call for the release of Al-Haj, who has been held for no reason for four years and denied treatment.”
In a note to Reporters Without Borders, Stafford-Smith said he was threatened with imprisonment by an American NCO at Guantanamo on the morning of 5 August after he asked to see two of his clients (one of them Al-Haj), who are identified at the base by the numbers 905 and 906. To Stafford-Smith’s surprise, the NCO said his clients were refusing to see him. He went on to accuse Stafford-Smith of violating the camp’s rules by encouraging one of his clients, Saudi citizen Shaker Aamer (“number 239”) to go on hunger strike, although Stafford-Smith had in fact been unable to see him during his preceding visit a month before. The NCO than threatened to have Stafford-Smith arrested by the US justice department.
Stafford-Smith said he discovered that another of his clients, Mohammed El Gharani, a young Chadian, was constantly pressured by guards to implicate him during July and August. Tortured and subjected to racist taunts, he had been placed with Shaker Aamer in the high-security Camp Echo section of Guantanamo in March in an attempt to get Aamer to give up his hunger strike.
Gharani was then forced to confess - under pain of being moved to the maximum-security Camp 5 unit - that Aamer had told him that Stafford-Smith had urged him to go on hunger strike and had encouraged three other detainees - two Saudis and a Yemeni - to commit suicide. In fact, Stafford-Smith had never acted for these three and does not even known their names.
Despite calls from the international community for Guantanamo’s closure and despite announcements of more respect for defence rights, “no information filters out about the condition of detainees, not even to their lawyers,” Stafford-Smith told Reporters Without Borders. “The military authorities assure me that Al-Haj, who I briefly saw a couple of weeks ago, is being treated for his throat cancer but I have no way of verifying that,” he added.