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Guantanamo a 'black hole,' says 1st civilian lawyer to visit
( 2003-12-18 14:05) (Agencies)

The U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where suspected Taliban soldiers are being held, is a "physical and moral black hole," the first civilian lawyer allowed to meet a client there said on Wednesday.

Australian lawyer Stephen Kenny, who last week visited detainee David Hicks of Adelaide, Australia, said at a news briefing in New York that Hicks was in "reasonable spirits" but "quite depressed about his conditions."

Hicks, 28, and hundreds of other detainees were arrested in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11 attacks by the al Qaeda network of Islamic militants headquartered there.

The detainees have been held for two years without charges or contact with the outside world, drawing worldwide criticism of this aspect of Washington's war on terrorism.

The Australian was the first detainee at Guantanamo Bay to be allowed a visit by a lawyer. Kenny was accompanied at the Navy base by U.S. military defense counsel and restrictions were placed on what he could say about his five days of meetings.

The government gave permission for the visit after the U.S. Supreme Court said last month it would review a ruling that the detainees are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. The court would decide by the end of June the cases of two British nationals, two Australians and 12 Kuwaitis, but a ruling would likely effect all detainees.

Kenny said the United States had not issued a timetable for Hicks' case and "I don't know when, or if, David will be formally charged, or if or when he will come to trial."


Hicks, a convert to Islam, was arrested in December 2001 while fighting with the Taliban. Kenny said Hicks, one of two Australians being held, had not killed or injured U.S. or Australian military personnel.

Kenny referred to a lecture last month by British law Lord Johan Steyn, who called the U.S. Navy base "a legal black hole" for suspected soldiers of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban government.

"After having been there, it is a physical and a moral black hole," said Kenny, whose efforts are supported by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which will argue the detainees' case before the Supreme Court.

He said he expected to have discussions with prosecutors to see if Hicks' case can be finalized without a trial, but referring to any possible plea deal, he added, "I don't want to give you an indication one way or another, or suggest that I am leading you in any direction."

Kenny said under Hicks' isolated conditions, he found it "totally unacceptable" that authorities reportedly approached Hicks before any lawyer's involvement to discuss possible legal options.

Kenny said apart from discussing his case and giving legal advice, he also took Hicks chocolate and an Australian treat of Vegemite spread. He said he also cooked Hicks a steak.

Kenny said he "did not see any other detainee, not even in passing" while at Guantanamo Bay.

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