US Supreme Court to hear Guantanamo prisoner appeals

THE Supreme Court will hear its first case arising from the American government’s anti-terrorism campaign following the September 11 attacks, agreeing yesterday to consider whether foreigners held at a Navy base in Cuba should have access to American courts.

The appeals came from British, Australian and Kuwaiti citizens held with more than 600 others suspected of being Taliban or al-Qaida foot soldiers. Most were picked up in Afghanistan following the attacks of two years ago.

The court combined the men’s appeals and will hear the consolidated case sometime next year.

Lower courts had found that the American civilian court system did not have authority to hear the men’s complaints about their treatment.

“The United States has created a prison on Guantanamo Bay that operates entirely outside the law,” lawyers for British and Australian detainees argued in asking the high court to take the case.

“Within the walls of this prison, foreign nationals may be held indefinitely, without charges or evidence of wrongdoing, without access to family, friends or legal counsel, and with no opportunity to establish their innocence,” they maintained.

In the Guantanamo case, the appeals come from men who do not even know about the lawsuit, lawyers from the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights told the court.

The lawsuit brought on their behalf claims they are not al-Qaida members and had no involvement in September 11.

The Bush administration replied that a lower federal appeals court properly looked to a Supreme Court case arising from World War II to determine that foreigners held outside the United States cannot bring the kind of court challenge at issue now. The 1950 case said German prisoners detained by the United States in China had no right to access to federal courts.

The Guantanamo base is a 45-square-mile area on the southeastern tip of Cuba.

The land was seized by the United States in the Spanish-American War and has been leased from Cuba for the past century. The lease far predates the communist rule of Fidel Castro.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had rejected the detainees' claim that Guantanamo Bay is under the de facto control of the United States, even though it remains a part of Cuba. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, whose wife was killed aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, told the court that the prisoners’ lawsuit has great “potential for interference with the core war powers of the president.”

President George W Bush has recommended that six of the Guantanamo detainees, including Australian David Hicks, be the first to face military tribunals established for the global war on terror.

Many of the inmates have spent nearly two years in confinement.

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