Sun, Jul 04, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Guantanamo prisoners file suits

LEGAL BLACK HOLE Detainees say their imprisonment lacks a legal basis and that proposed military tribunals are unconstitutional and contrary to international law


Lawyers representing nine prisoners at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, filed lawsuits in federal court on Friday arguing their detention was unlawful and unconstitutional and seeking their release.

Five cases covering nine prisoners were filed in US District Court in Washington four days after the US Supreme Court dealt a defeat to the Bush administration and ruled foreign terrorism suspects held at the base could use the US judicial system to challenge their confinement.

The lawsuits seek the release of British citizens Moazzem Begg and Feroz Abbasi, Turkish citizen Murat Kurnaz, French citizens Mourad Benchallali, Nizar Sassi and Ridouane Khalid, Jordanian Jamil El-Banna, Iraqi Bisher Al-Rawi and Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, who was 15 at the time he was seized in Afghanistan and is now 17.

Without charges

The cases contend their confinement lacks any legal basis. They were filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based legal activist group representing 53 Guantanamo prisoners, and a group of affiliated lawyers.

The US holds at Guantanamo about 595 non-US citizens detained in what US President George W. Bush calls the global war on terrorism, most of them captured in Afghanistan. The US began imprisoning those suspects at the base in January 2002.

Nearly all have been held without charges or access to lawyers. Human rights groups have been among those condemning the base as "a legal black hole" and have accused the Pentagon of interrogations that amount to torture.

The lawyers asked the court to declare that "the prolonged, indefinite and restrictive detention" of the prisoners at the base is "arbitrary and unlawful," and represented deprivation of liberty without due process in violation of the US Constitution's Fifth Amendment.

Cease interrogations

The cases also contend that Bush's November, 2001 order authorizing trials of foreign terrorism suspects before special US military tribunals was unconstitutional and violated military law and international treaties.

The suits requested that the government to allow defense lawyers to meet and confer with the nine prisoners "in private and unmonitored attorney-client conversations," and to cease all interrogations of the prisoners while the case is pending.

No pentagon comment

"The Supreme Court repudiated the position of the government that they could hold people outside the rule of law. What these cases now do is apply the rule of law to the detentions in Guantanamo," said Jeffrey Fogel, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

A Pentagon spokesman, Major Michael Shavers, declined comment on the content of the lawsuits "because it's pending litigation." Shavers also said the Bush administration had not decided what actions it would take in response to the Supreme Court ruling.

"Obviously, we're going to comply with the court ruling, but there's been no decision made yet as to how we're going to do that," Shavers said.

The Center for Constitutional Rights on Thursday demanded in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld access to its clients at Guantanamo and offered to organize lawyers to provide legal counsel to other detainees.

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