WASHINGTON — Mail inspectors at the US-run prison in Guantanamo Bay have been barred from disclosing the contents of attorney-client correspondence in a case that could later apply to other detainees, a defense lawyer said.
Judge James Pohl's decision, made this month in the case of accused USS Cole bombing mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri but not yet published as it is still under Pentagon review, was described to AFP by his attorney Richard Kammen.
Pohl "greatly restricted" the mail screener's ability "to share anything they learned with anyone other than the judge," said Kammen.
"At this point, we're hoping that this ruling will end this controversy," he added.
Pohl is the chief military commissions judge at the Guantanamo Bay facility, suggesting that the decision could later be applied to other detainees.
He took up motions on what constitutes "legal mail" between defense lawyers and their clients, and the classification of defense secrets at a hearing in January for Saudi-born Nashiri, who faces the death penalty if convicted.
Base commander Rear Admiral David Woods had ordered that correspondence between detainees and their lawyers be systematically inspected.
Woods had said "privileged" correspondence was not read but rather under "review to ensure there's no contraband" and whether it could impact US national security.
The Pentagon has since said that Woods would be transferred to another post within a year, though it was not clear if that decision was linked to the mail controversy.
Nashiri stands accused of planning and preparing the October 2000 attack on the US Navy destroyer Cole in Yemen's port of Aden.
Militants riding an explosives-laden skiff blew a 30-foot by 30-foot (10-m by 10m) hole in the ship, killing 17 sailors and wounding 40 more.
He is also accused of involvement in an attempted attack against another American warship in Aden, the USS The Sullivans, in January 2000.
US military prosecutors have also accused Nashiri of planning an attack on a French civilian oil tanker MV Limburg in the Gulf of Aden in 2002 that left one Bulgarian crew member dead and caused a 90,000 barrel oil spill.
James Connell, lawyer for Guantanamo detainee Pakistani Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, who is accused of helping plot the September 11, 2001 attacks, said there would be "significant problems" if Pohl's decision were applied to other inmates.
Connell has filed suit in a US federal court in Washington over the restrictions on attorney-client correspondence.
Applying Pohl's ruling to all "would not resolve either of the major issues I identified in the lawsuit -- intelligence and law enforcement review of my legal mail without judicial oversight and censorship of relevant legal topics," he told AFP.
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