Fourteen "high value" terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval prison have been offered the right to ask for attorneys, The Washington Post reported.
The move could allow the suspects to join other detainees in challenging their status as "enemy combatants" in a U.S. appeals court, the newspaper reported in its Friday editions.
The prisoners include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. They have had no access to lawyers while they were being held at Guantanamo or at secret CIA prisons overseas. They were transferred to the U.S. facility at Guantanamo last year.
The prisoners have been entitled to military "personal representatives" to assist them during the process that determined whether they were enemy combatants.
U.S. officials have argued against allowing the prisoners access to lawyers without special security precautions out of fear that elements of the CIA's secret detention program or its interrogation techniques could be revealed.
A 2005 law gives Guantanamo Bay captives the right to challenge their enemy combatant status in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
A form given to the Guantanamo detainees in late August and early September allowed them to request that the American Civil Liberties Union find them a lawyer, at no charge, to assist them in challenging the determination that they are enemy combatants, the newspaper said. At least four of the detainees already have requested attorneys, according to people familiar with the process the Post did not identify.
William H. Neukom, the ABA's president, criticized the use of the organization's name on the form, telling government lawyers that the ABA did not want to "lend support and credibility to such an inadequate review scheme," the Post said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, told the newspaper: "These counsel will be permitted to visit the detainee and engage in confidential written communications with the detainee once the counsel has obtained the necessary security clearance" and agrees to special court rules.
The Post quoted defense and intelligence officials as saying the offer of attorneys does not represent a change in policy.
"It was the intent and the plan all along that they would have the right to counsel," a senior intelligence official told the newspaper.