Foreign terror suspects held at the US-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are barred from using the US court system to challenge their detentions, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.
The Washington Circuit Court rejected the detainees' argument they were not covered by legislation passed last year that barred designated "enemy combatants" from challenging their detention in the US court system.
"Their arguments are creative but not cogent," the court said in a two-to-one ruling likely to go before the US Supreme Court.
"To accept them would be to defy the will of Congress," the ruling said.
The ruling was the latest chapter in a national debate over the treatment of Guantanamo inmates that has pitted concerns over security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks against the need to uphold civil liberties.
The focus of the debate has been President George W. Bush's move to designate terror suspects "enemy combatants" and hold them in Guantanamo for years without charge pending appearances before military tribunals.
The Supreme Court ruled last June that the tribunals were illegal because they were not authorized by Congress -- an omission the Republican-controlled legislature remedied with legislation passed four months later.
But the detainees held at the US naval base in Guantanamo, which currently has some 400 inmates, argued they were not covered by provisions of the Military Commission Act that barred all suspects from challenging their detention in civilian courts.
The appeals court rebuffed as "nonsense" the detainees' contention the law had a loophole that allowed them to file so-called habeas corpus petitions that contest detention without formal charges or proof.
The appeals court also rejected the detainees' right to claim that the act violated the US Constitution that said habeas corpus could be suspended only in times of rebellion or other such extraordinary circumstances.
"Precedent in this court and the Supreme Court holds that the Constitution does not confer rights on aliens without property or presence within the United States," the majority ruled.
The Bush administration was pleased with the ruling.
"The court decided with the position that we put forward," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters.
David Cynamon, an attorney representing a group of Kuwaiti detainees at Guantanamo, vowed to fight the ruling.
"I and the other attorneys working for justice in Guantanamo Bay are deeply disappointed in the US Court of Appeals's decision to deny our clients the right to challenge their detentions in the US court system," he said.
"We look forward to bringing this issue before the Supreme Court where we expect the court to again uphold the fundamental right of habeas corpus," he said.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents several of the Guantanamo inmates, said the decision "empowers the president to do whatever he wishes to prisoners without any legal limitation, as long as he does it offshore, and encourages such notorious practices as extraordinary rendition and a contempt for international human rights law."
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