Mon, Jul 12, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Pentagon trying to skirt court ruling, analysts say

`ENEMY COMBATANTS' The US Supreme Court has said that Guantanamo detainees have the right to challenge their status, but that hasn't ended the battle


The Pentagon wants to circumvent a US Supreme Court ruling allowing inmates at a US base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to challenge their detention in US courts by creating military tribunals, analysts said.

The Pentagon on Wednesday responded to the June 28 Supreme Court ruling by ordering the creation of Combatant Review Tribunals to determine whether each of the 594 detainees at Guantanamo is being lawfully held as an "enemy combatant."

Under the process, the detainees will be assisted by US military officers but not represented by their own lawyers.

The administration President George W. Bush is "anxious clearly to get the process in place before things started to heat up in the federal court litigation," said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute for Military Justice, a Washington-based group.

"It comes very late," he said.

Most of the detainees were picked up during military operations in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, and are said to be linked to the Taliban militia or al-Qaeda's terrorist network.

However, US officials have not released names, nor have they charged the detainees with any crimes, nor allowed them access to lawyers.

Because the detainees are considered enemy combatants, US officials said, they are not protected by the Geneva Convention.

"The Pentagon clearly does not want to give up control," said Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University Law School.

"They are clearly unwilling to allow federal judges to decide these cases. The only reason they would not want federal judges to make these decisions is that they believe the federal judges would rule against them," he said.

Turley said that lawyers for the detainees "will challenge the use of these military commissions in a federal court and demand that these detainees be brought before a federal judge."

The special military tribunals will be made up of three officers. Detainees will be able to count on a "personal representative" -- an officer who will have access to the detainee's information.

Fidell describes it as "an odd arrangement," and worries that it the "personal representative" is merely "a charade."

"In what sense are these people `personal representatives?' To show them the rules, to explain the rules or to advise them and provide the kind of assistance that ordinarily a lawyer would provide?" he said.

Wendy Patten, an official with Human Rights Watch, sees the move as "another attempt by the Bush administration to create an ad hoc procedure that does not comply with international human rights and humanitarian law."

"Here they have said all the detainees have already been determined to be enemy combatants," she said. "So a detainee who goes before this tribunal must somehow disprove that."

After three years of statements by Bush and senior Pentagon officials to that effect, "It raises some questions about whether a panel of members of the military will have the ability to contradict their superiors," she said.

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