Judge rules detainees in Cuba have no right to U.S. trials

Published: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
WASHINGTON - A federal judge ruled Wednesday that two British citizens and an Australian captured in Afghanistan and held in Cuba have no right to trial before U.S. courts.
The ruling supports the government's strategy for holding nearly 600 suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda militants without trial at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Britons Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal and Australian David Hicks are among those being held there, according to the government. They were captured while fighting with Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, U.S. officials allege.
The men's families hired lawyers in the United States who sued the Bush administration, demanding the men be allowed to argue their cases before a federal judge.
But U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled the U.S. legal system has no jurisdiction over detainees held in Cuba.
In so doing, she rejected the plaintiffs' argument that "our leased military bases abroad, which continue under the sovereignty of foreign nations, hostile or friendly, are functionally equivalent to being land borders or ports of entry of the United States or otherwise within the United States."
The judge also struck down the argument the detained men should have the same right to U.S. courts as Cuban citizens who have requested political asylum and gained entry into the United States.
"The crucial distinction in their rights as aliens is that (they) had been given some form of process by the government of the United States," the judge wrote in her opinion. "Once the United States made determinations that the migrants had a credible fear of political persecution and could claim asylum in the United States, these migrants became vested with a liberty interest that the government was unable to simply deny without due process of law."
The judge also pointed out that the men have not been charged with any legal offenses, and thus, are not being deprived of due process.
Barbara Olshansky, a legal director for the civil rights group representing the men, said the judge based her decision on "irrelevant and ill-reasoned" precedents.
"We find the decision extremely troubling," said Olshansky, who works for The Center for Constitutional Rights. "The court has left the petitioners in legal limbo without recourse. They are being held at the unfettered discretion of the United States and have nowhere to turn."
In November, the Bush administration ordered the detainees held and not accorded protections as prisoners of war on grounds they are among the most dangerous Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters captured during the battle in Afghanistan.
The three prisoners named in the complaint are being held indefinitely with some 300 others.
No treaty or U.S. law grants prisoners such as those at Camp X-ray the right to a lawyer. That would change if they were charged with a crime. Prisoners of war also merit legal protections not being given the Guantanamo detainees.
The Nov. 13 executive order violates the Constitution's guarantee of due process, to which any foreign nationals are entitled, according to the complaint. Among other things, the complaint accuses Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert and Col. Terry Carrico of withholding the right to an attorney from the prisoners.
Lehnert is commander of the task force running the detention operation, and Carrico is commandant of Camp X-ray.
The petition listed numerous efforts by the three men's families to contact them, which were "either rebuffed or ignored" by U.S. officials. The men have been allowed to write letters to their families, screened by U.S. officials, in which they asked for lawyers.
Their attorney has said the situation could lead to the men being denied representation even as they appear before a military tribunal with authority to impose the death penalty.
The judge's ruling took issue with the plaintiff's argument that the detainees would be held indefinitely, stating that global courts and the United Nations have the power to inquire about where detainees are being held and for how long.
A half-year after the United States began taking suspected terrorists to the U.S. base in Cuba, the temporary prison has grown to nearly 600 prisoners from some 36 countries.

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