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Court: Detainees can't challenge cases

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070220/ap_on_go_su_co/detainees_lawsuits;_ylt=AuDIoI.m9LJQyrtnTDf_EMGs0NUE Court: Detainees can t challenge cases By HOPE YEN,
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 20 4:14 PM
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070220/ap_on_go_su_co/detainees_lawsuits;_ylt=AuDIoI.m9LJQyrtnTDf_EMGs0NUE

      Court: Detainees can't challenge cases

      By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 1 minute
      ago

      WASHINGTON - In a victory for
      President Bush, a divided federal appeals court ruled
      Tuesday that Guantanamo Bay detainees cannot use the
      U.S. court system to challenge their indefinite
      imprisonment. A Supreme Court appeal was promised.

      The 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
      D.C. Circuit dismisses hundreds of cases filed by
      foreign-born detainees in federal court and also
      threatens to strip away court access to millions of
      lawful permanent residents currently in the United
      States.

      It upholds a key provision of the Military Commissions
      Act, which Bush pushed through Congress last year to
      set up a Defense Department system to prosecute
      terrorism suspects. Now, detainees must prove to
      three-officer military panels that they don't pose a
      terror threat.

      Democrats newly in charge of Congress promised
      legislation aimed at giving detainees legal rights.
      Attorneys for detainees said they would appeal
      Tuesday's ruling to the Supreme Court.

      "We're disappointed," said Shayana Kadidal of the
      Center for Constitutional Rights. "The bottom line is
      that according to two of the federal judges, the
      president can do whatever he wants without any legal
      limitations as long as he does it offshore."

      The two judges voting with the White House — Judge A.
      Raymond Randolph and Judge David B. Sentelle — were
      appointed by Republicans. Reagan appointed Sentelle,
      and the first President Bush appointed Randolph. The
      dissenter, Judge Judith W. Rogers, was appointed by
      Clinton.

      White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino called
      the decision "a significant win" for the
      administration and said the Military Commissions Act
      provides "sufficient and fair access to courts for
      these detainees."

      At the Justice Department, attorneys urged Chief
      Justice John G. Roberts to deny legal relief to
      Guantanamo prisoners. They also said that in the case
      of Sharaf al-Sanani, a Yemeni being held at
      Guantanamo, the government was no longer obligated to
      explain why he was being detained.

      About 395 detainees are currently being held at the
      U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The
      first prisoners arrived more than five years ago,
      after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

      At issue is the right of habeas corpus, a basic tenet
      of the Constitution protecting detainees from unlawful
      imprisonment. Twice before, the Supreme Court ruled
      that right gave Guantanamo detainees full access to
      courts.

      But in their latest ruling last June, justices
      suggested the president could ask Congress for more
      anti-terrorism authority, prompting passage of the
      commissions act that in part stripped federal court
      review.

      Randolph, writing for the majority, said the new
      commissions act clearly blocked court access and was
      constitutional because a "foreign entity without
      property or presence in this country has no
      constitutional rights."

      "The arguments are creative but not cogent. To accept
      them would be to defy the will of Congress," Randolph
      wrote in the 25-page opinion, which was joined by
      Sentelle.

      In dissent, Judge Rogers said the cases should
      proceed. She argued that the military hearings — known
      as Combatant Status Review Tribunals, or CSRTs —
      deprive detainees of critical due process rights
      provided by the Constitution by putting the legal
      burden on detainees to prove they aren't terrorist
      threats.

      "District courts are well able to adjust these
      proceedings in light of the government's significant
      interests in guarding national security," Rogers
      wrote. "More significant still, continued detention
      may be justified by a CSRT on the basis of evidence
      resulting from torture."

      Under the commissions act, the government may
      indefinitely detain foreigners who have been
      designated as "enemy combatants" and authorizes the
      CIA to use aggressive but undefined interrogation
      tactics.

      A spokeswoman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman
      Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., said
      Leahy had prioritized a bill that would restore
      detainees' legal rights, noting that some 12 million
      lawful permanent residents currently in the U.S. could
      also be stripped of rights.

      Leahy was referring to the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah
      Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, who was arrested in 2001
      as an "enemy combatant" while studying in the United
      States. The Justice Department says the commissions
      law should apply to immigrants such as him, and the
      4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., is
      expected to issue a ruling soon.

      A provision restoring detainees' rights, introduced by
      Leahy and then-Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (news,
      bio, voting record), R-Pa., narrowly failed last year
      on a 48-51 vote.

      "The Military Commissions Act is a dangerous and
      misguided law that undercuts our freedoms and assaults
      our Constitution by removing vital checks and balances
      designed to prevent government overreaching and
      lawlessness," Leahy said in a statement.

      But Sen. John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record),
      R-Texas, who helped draft the new commission law,
      heralded the ruling as "respecting the will of
      Congress."

      "The detainees held at Guantanamo Bay do not have an
      unfettered constitutional right," he said. "In fact,
      the legal and humane actions of the U.S. government
      stand in stark contrast to our al-Qaeda enemies who
      behead those they capture."

      Rep. Ike Skelton (news, bio, voting record), D-Mo.,
      who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said he
      will launch a congressional review to determine
      whether military hearings offer detainees legal
      protections to which they are entitled.

      "The last thing that we would want is to convict an
      individual for terrorism and then have that conviction
      overturned because of fatal flaws in the military
      commissions law passed in the previous Congress,"
      Skelton said.

      Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney at the Brennan Center for
      Justice, said the ruling sends the wrong message about
      justice to U.S. citizens and the international
      community. Ultimately, it will be the Supreme Court
      that will have to sort out the legal mess, he said.

      "It's a terrible ruling that contradicts centuries of
      Anglo-American history and allows the indefinite
      detention of innocent people without charge or
      judicial review," Hafetz said.

      ___

      On the Net:

      The ruling can be found at:

      http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/docs/common/opinions/200702/05-5062b.pdf

      Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov
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