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Soldiers Ordered Not to Discuss Gitmo Abuse

MIRANDA LEITSINGER, Associated Press | October 15 2006

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A paralegal and a military lawyer who brought forward allegations about prisoner abuse at the Guantanamo Bay detention center have been ordered not to speak with the press, lawyers and a military spokeswoman said Saturday.

Marine Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, who represents a detainee at the U.S. naval base in eastern Cuba, filed a complaint with the Pentagon last week alleging that abuse was ongoing at the prison. He attached a sworn statement from his paralegal, Sgt. Heather Cerveny, in which she said several Guantanamo guards bragged in a bar about beating detainees, describing it as common practice.

Muneer Ahmad, a civilian defense lawyer for Omar Khadr, a Canadian detainee whose military counsel is Vokey, said that Vokey and Cerveny were ordered Friday by the U.S. Marines not to speak with the press.

A spokeswoman for the Marines confirmed the order, saying Vokey's supervisor Col. Carol Joyce, the Marines' chief defense counsel had directed him not to communicate with the media "pending her review of the facts."

"This is necessary to ensure all actions of counsel are in compliance with regulations establishing professional standards for military attorneys," the spokeswoman, 1st Lt. Blanca E. Binstock, said in a statement.

Reached by telephone, Vokey declined to comment, saying, "I can't even talk about it." When asked if he was going to abide by the order for the time being, he said, "Yes."

Cerveny, reached by telephone late Saturday, said she disagreed with the order but also would abide it. She declined to comment further.

Telephone calls placed to a Pentagon spokesman were not immediately returned.

Ahmad said Vokey was also barred from talking to the media about anything related to the military commissions tribunals set up to try detainees. He said he didn't know how the order was issued and that Vokey previously had the military's authorization to speak with the media.

"I think he is very concerned about his ability to perform his job as a lawyer," Ahmad said. "It's really quite troubling ... at this point I'm not sure what our next steps will be."

Cerveny, 23, visited Guantanamo last month and has said she spent an hour with the guards at the military club. She said the guards stopped discussing beating detainees after finding out that she works for a detainee's legal team.

"It was a general consensus that I (detected) that as a group this is something they did. That this was OK at Guantanamo, that this is how the detainees get treated," Cerveny said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Gen. John Craddock, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said Friday that he had ordered an investigation headed by an Army colonel.

The military Joint Task Force that runs the detention camps in Guantanamo Bay pledged to work with investigators from the Southern Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Caribbean and Latin America.

There are now 454 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, according to Vincent Lusser, a spokesman for the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross.

Guantanamo Bay began receiving prisoners, most of them captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in January 2002. Only 10 of the detainees have been charged with crimes.

 

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