Many of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are no longer cooperating with their lawyers, adding a largely invisible struggle between the lawyers and their own clients to the legal battle over the Bush administration's detention policies.
Some detainees refuse to see their lawyers, while others decline mail from their lawyers or refuse to provide them information on their cases, according to court documents, writings of some of the detainees and recent interviews.
The detainees' resistance appears to have been fueled by frustration over their long detention and suspicion about whether their lawyers are working for the government, as well as anti-American sentiment, some of the documents and interviews show. "Your role is to polish Bush's shoes and make the picture look good," a Yemeni detainee, Adnan Farhan Abdullatif, 31, wrote his lawyer in February.
Some of the lawyers accuse Guantanamo officials of feeding the detainees' suspicions of the lawyers, a charge Pentagon officials deny.
Lawyers said many of the relationships appeared to have deteriorated as the detainees' legal cause has suffered setbacks in Congress and the courts, and as Justice Department officials have begun efforts to limit lawyers' access to detainees, raising new concerns among the detainees about their lawyers' effectiveness.
"Every lawyer is afraid, every time they go down there, that their clients won't see them," said Mark P. Denbeaux, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law who represents two Guantanamo detainees. "And it's getting worse, because it's pretty hard to say we're offering them anything."
The situation is awkward for the lawyers, who have become a considerable force, not only in the courts but also in legislative, diplomatic and public debates about detention policies. Tense relationships or outright resistance from their clients could undercut their credibility and complicate their legal work.
The Justice Department, in a recent court filing, asked a federal appeals court to limit the number of times lawyers challenging detention could visit detainees and to allow officials to read lawyers' mail to detainees. Some of the lawyers said that court fight would be likely to further weaken their ties to some detainees because it raised questions about whether their communications would be confidential and whether they would be able to continue to see their clients.
Some detainees are clearly cooperating with their lawyers and are engaged in regular dialogue with them.
In interviews, some lawyers denied that there were problems in their relationships with detainees or declined to discuss the difficulties, saying such information would embolden the government. But other lawyers estimated that a third or more of the detainees who have worked with lawyers in cases challenging their detention are now resisting cooperating with them.
Of 10 detainees publicly identified by military prosecutors as targets of possible war-crimes charges, many, if not most, have either refused U.S. lawyers entirely or are uncooperative or uncommunicative, four of the lawyers involved in the war crimes cases said. Some of those detainees face possible life sentences.
"The relationship of the lawyers with many of the clients who still see us is very strained and tense," said David H. Remes, a Washington lawyer at Covington & Burling, who represents 17 Yemeni detainees challenging their detention.
At times, the lawyer-client battles provide an insight into detainees' attitudes. Remes said one client grew furious when he learned his lawyers had interviewed his family members in Yemen to gather information for his case.
The detainee assumed, Remes said, that his lawyers were acting as investigators for the U.S. government.