Court Backs U.S. on Detentions
THE WASHINGTON POST
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
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.