U.S. Defends Legal Limits For Detainees

Associated Press
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Immigrants arrested in the United States may be held indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism and may not challenge their imprisonment in civilian courts, the Bush administration argued yesterday, opening a new legal front in the fight over the rights of detainees.

In documents filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, the Justice Department said a new anti-terrorism law being used to hold detainees at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, also applies to foreigners captured and held in the United States.

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, was arrested in 2001 while studying in the United States and is being held at a military prison in South Carolina as an "enemy combatant."

The new law says that enemy combatants will be tried before military commissions, not a civilian judge or jury, and establishes different rules of evidence in the cases. It also prohibits such detainees from challenging their detention in civilian court.

Marri's attorneys said his imprisonment in the United States affords him the same rights as anyone else in the country.

In a separate court filing yesterday in Washington, the Justice Department defended the law as constitutional and necessary.

Government lawyers said in documents filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that foreign fighters arrested as part of an overseas military action have no constitutional rights and are being afforded more legal rights than ever.

They argued that lawsuits by hundreds of Guantanamo Bay prisoners should be dismissed. Giving military detainees access to civilian courts "would severely impair the military's ability to defend this country," government lawyers wrote.

Human rights groups and attorneys for the detainees say the law is unconstitutional.

Aliens usually have the right to contest their imprisonment, such as when they are arrested on immigration violations or for other crimes.

"It's pretty stunning that any alien living in the United States can be denied this right," said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney for Marri. "It means any noncitizen, and there are millions of them, can be whisked off at night and be put in detention."

The Bush administration maintains that Marri is a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda.

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