Guantanamo Bay Britons to see lawyers after more than two years without trial

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The Independent Online

Three British men held without charge at Guantanamo Bay are to see their lawyers for the first time within days, at the start of a new legal battle to get the men released.

Three British men held without charge at Guantanamo Bay are to see their lawyers for the first time within days, at the start of a new legal battle to get the men released.

Two American lawyers are preparing to fly to the US detention centre in Cuba to see Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi and Martin Mubanga, who have been held as alleged al-Qa'ida terrorists without access to lawyers since 2002.

Clive Stafford Smith, the British-born, US-based lawyer who has led the legal battle for all the British detainees, has been barred from access to Guantanamo Bay. After a year of legal wrangling, the Pentagon has refused to grant him security clearance.

The two attorneys, Brent Mickum and Gitanjali Gutierrez, hope to arrive in Guantanamo Bay this week. They plan to check allegations that their clients have been tortured, deprived of humane living conditions and are suffering from severe mental problems.

Last week, The Independent on Sunday revealed that Mr Mubanga, a Muslim convert arrested in Zambia in March 2002, had told his family of threatened sexual and physical abuse by guards by writing letters home in a mixture of patois and slang to escape US censors.

Yesterday, Azmat Begg, the father of Moazzam Begg, from Birmingham, said British diplomats are investigating claims that his son is mentally ill after more than two years of solitary confinement at Bagram airbase, Afghanistan, and in a high-security unit, Camp Echo, at Guantanamo.

Diplomats told Mr Begg last week that his son was being seen by a psychiatrist. "I want the lawyer to ask about his mental and physical health, and his well-being. I also want to know why he's being kept there and what wrong he has done," he said.

The lawyers' visit follows a highly critical judgment by the US Supreme Court in June on the Pentagon's refusal to allow any of the 600 detainees in Guantanamo Bay the right to challenge their imprisonment. The Britons' lawyers have begun court proceedings to get the men the right to challenge their detention.

The Pentagon reacted to the Supreme Court ruling by holding a series of secret military hearings at Guantanamo into whether the prisoners are being properly held as "enemy combatants", and can therefore be held without trial - a process dismissed as a sham by human rights groups.

On Friday, the Pentagon announced that the first four men given hearings had been again classified as enemy combatants and would not be released. Of the 25 men so far given hearings, at least 11 have refused to take part.

Ms Gutierrez, from a law firm in New Jersey, will represent Mr Begg and Mr Abbasi. Mr Mickum, from New York, will see Mr Mubanga as well as two detainees who have lived in the UK for years but have Iraqi and Jordanian nationality.

Both lawyers are still arguing with the US Department of Justice about whether they will be allowed a private meeting with their clients, whether they can be recorded, what they can say publicly afterwards and whether the US can see their notes.

The lawyer representing the fourth Briton still at Guantanamo, Richard Belmar, is yet to get clearance to fly there.

Mr Begg learnt in a recent letter from his son that the camp authorities had withdrawn a guard from his son's cell because they had begun talking, and put in a CCTV camera instead. A small new window just installed in his cell - after two years without any access to natural light - was glazed with frosted glass. His son had also complained about poor food rations.