Oregon federal public defender to visit Sudan on behalf of Guantánamo detainees
by: JIM CLARK, Steven Wax, head of the District of Oregon Federal Public Defender’s office, and an investigator are on their way to Africa to enlist the aid of Sudan’s government in the release of prisoners at the U.S. Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

A Portland lawyer and his legal investigator set off Thursday for Sudan - with the long-shot hope of meeting with Sudanese government officials and somehow facilitating the release of a Sudanese man from the United States' military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The trip by Oregon Federal Public Defender Steven Wax and an investigator from the federal public defender's office comes as relations between the governments of Sudan and the United States are increasingly strained.

President Bush threatened this week to tighten economic sanctions on Sudan and add new ones if the country's leaders don't take action to stop the ongoing violence in the country's Darfur region.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur since 2003, in civil strife that U.S. officials believe the Sudanese government has helped to foment.

Those strained relations probably are limiting any chance of release from Guantánamo of one of the seven Guantánamo detainees that Wax's office is representing - a Sudanese hospital administrator named Adel Hassan Hamad.

The U.S. military continues to house an estimated 385 detainees from a range of countries at the prison at Guantánamo. While not formally charging most of them, U.S. officials have said the detainees are the 'worst of the worst' of terrorists aiming to kill Americans.

In recent months, some detainees have been released - but only to countries that have good relations with the United States.

Even though Hamad was months ago placed on a list of approved releases, he remains at the prison, Wax said.

'Whatever difficulties exist between the United States and Sudan have apparently been an impediment to negotiations for the repatriation (to Sudan) of Mr. Hamad and the other eight Sudanese who are detained at Guantánamo,' Wax said.

Wax said he is not trying to meet with Sudanese government officials to in any way discuss Darfur or Sudan's relations with the United States.

'My sole purpose in being there and speaking with the Sudanese … is to talk about Mr. Hamad,' he said. 'We will provide them with the evidence of his innocence, and ask them to communicate their willingness to have him come home, and take any other actions that they believe might facilitate that process.'

Wax's office became involved in representing Hamad and the six other Guantánamo detainees when it was assigned the job by a U.S. district court after the Supreme Court said Guantánamo detainees had a right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts.

Since then, however, Congress has passed a law that allows the detainees only limited hearings before a military tribunal at Guantánamo. That law largely has ended any legal steps the detainees' lawyers can take to challenge the detentions.

So Wax and other lawyers in his office in recent months have tried to generate public attention about their clients' cases - especially the case of Hamad, who was born in Sudan, worked as a hospital administrator in Afghanistan and lived just across the border with his family in Pakistan. That's where he was arrested in July 2002, before he was sent to Guantánamo in 2003.

In January, William Teesdale, an investigator in Wax's office who is traveling to Sudan, posted a video on that includes interviews with people in Afghanistan and Pakistan who support Hamad's claims of innocence. As of Thursday, the video had been viewed more than 80,000 times.

Wax said he and Teesdale also will be trying to talk to family members and past co-workers of Hamad during their trip to help gather corroboration on assertions of innocence that Hamad has made. They will return April 30, Wax said.

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