U.S. military to allow detainees to make phone calls from Guant

.GUANTÁNAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) – The U.S. military said Tuesday that it will allow detainees to make regular phone calls to their families from Guantánamo Bay prison, where many have been confined in extreme isolation for as long as six years.

The new policy by the Defense Department, which previously said security concerns prevented such calls, is part of a strategy to ease conditions for frustrated prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said the telephone policy reflects a commitment to maintaining the health and well-being of Guantánamo detainees. No start date has been set for the program.

Inmates’ contact with the outside world generally has been limited to mail delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross and meetings with their lawyers. The military has allowed a small number of detainees to speak with their families, but typically only on “humanitarian” grounds such as following a death in the family.

Detainees’ attorneys welcomed the phone calls but said reconnecting with family could make life more painful for those at Guantánamo, where the U.S. military holds about 275 men on suspicion of links to terrorism, al-Qaida or the Taliban.

Marc Falkoff, a Northern Illinois University law professor who represents 17 detainees, said one of his Yemeni clients has a 6-year-old daughter with whom he has never spoken.

“To be honest, I don’t know whether speaking with her will lift him from his depression or simply shatter him,” said Falkoff, who added that the man has grown so hopeless he has asked his lawyers to stop meeting with him.

A spokesman for the detention center, Army Lt. Col. Ed Bush, said it is working out procedures for the calls. He declined to provide details about which detainees would be eligible and how often calls would be permitted.

“I have no projected timeline for implementation but it is currently being developed,” he said.

Chicago lawyer H. Candace Gorman, who represents a Guantánamo detainee, said she learned on a recent visit with her client that prisoners will be allowed to speak with their families for one hour every six months.