March 12, 2003
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Court Backs U.S. on Detentions


    WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the 650 suspected terrorists and Taliban fighters held at a U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have no legal rights in the United States and may not ask courts to review their detentions.
    The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, an important legal victory for the administration in its war on terrorism, means that the detainees can be held indefinitely without access to lawyers or judges.
    The attorneys for 16 detainees -- 12 Kuwaitis, two Britons and two Australians -- sought to force the government to explain in court why the men are being held. That motion, known as a writ of habeas corpus, establishes a court's authority over a person in custody.
    But the court rejected those appeals, citing a World War II Supreme Court case about German prisoners as precedent and ruling that because Cuba holds ultimate sovereignty over the leased military base, U.S. courts lack jurisdiction there.
    "No court in this country has jurisdiction to grant habeas relief to the Guantanamo detainees, even if they have not been adjudicated enemies of the United States," wrote Circuit Court Judge A. Raymond Randolph in the 18-page opinion. "If the Constitution does not entitle the detainees to due process, and it does not, they cannot invoke the jurisdiction of our courts to test the constitutionality or the legality of restraints on their liberty."
    Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland and Senior Circuit Court Judge Stephen Williams agreed.


    The decision upheld a federal court ruling issued in August. The detainees can appeal to the full D.C. Circuit or the Supreme Court.
    U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft hailed Tuesday's ruling as an "important victory in the war on terrorism.
    "In times of war, the president must be able to protect our nation from enemies who seek to harm innocent Americans," Ashcroft said in a statement. "As the D.C. Circuit recognized, the Supreme Court has held that this nation's enemies may not enlist America's courts to 'divert' . . . efforts and attention from the military offensive abroad to the legal defensive at home."
    The attorneys for the detainees and some human rights groups said the ruling sacrifices basic American legal protections as part of an over-zealous effort to combat terrorism.


Copyright 2003, The Salt Lake Tribune.
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