SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Officials abruptly canceled a lawyer's visit Tuesday to Guantanamo amid an internal probe involving the defense of a Canadian accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, the often outspoken Pentagon-appointed defense lawyer for Omar Khadr, was scheduled to hold two days of meetings with his client at the U.S. base in Cuba.
But Kuebler says he was told he could not meet with Khadr and that another military defense lawyer had been appointed to lead an investigation into his handling of the case, which, like all Guantanamo prosecutions, is on hold pending a formal review by President Obama's administration.
"It's an important time for me to meet with my client and I'm being prevented from doing so," he said in a phone interview from Washington.
U.S. officials confirmed that Kuebler's trip was cancel and that an investigation into Kadr's defense was underway, but declined to discuss the focus of the probe.
Kuebler said the investigation stems from his criticism of Air Force Col. Peter Masciola, the military's chief defense counsel for the Guantanamo tribunals, for an alleged conflict of interest and for his management of the office and its legal resources.
Masciola did not respond to a request for comment. But Michael Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel, denied there was a conflict of interest or that the investigation was related to Kuebler's criticism.
Kuebler and three other lawyers assigned to Khadr, were ordered not to visit their client until officials had looked into "ethical issues" involving the legal team, Berrigan said in a statement.
"This action was taken because of a concern with various professional responsibility issues currently surrounding the Omar Khadr defense team," he said. "The chief defense counsel is currently investigating those issues."
Berrigan said he could not disclose any details, even the focus of the probe, without violating personnel rules or attorney-client privilege.
Kuebler said he was also barred from discussing details because internal and other legally "protected" issues are involved. He said the conflict allegation stems from his belief that Masciola has been too cooperative with Obama administration officials as they review Guantanamo cases and decide whether the cases should be tried in civilian or military courts or some combination of the two.
"I don't want to make it easier for the government to prosecute my client," he said. "I want my client to be released."
Kuebler has been known for his aggressive defense of Khadr, a Toronto native accused of killing a U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a grenade during a 2002 battle in Afghanistan when he was 15.
His impromptu news conferences have been known to rile prosecutors and Pentagon officials. He has asserted that Speer may have been killed by friendly fire and that Khadr should not be prosecuted because he was a child at the time of the firefight.
Kuebler argues that Khadr, who faced up to life in prison if convicted before the Guantanamo military commission, should be sent back to Canada.