A federal judge refused yesterday to stop military hearings that will decide whether the Pentagon can continue to hold hundreds of terrorism suspects at a Navy base in Cuba.

Judge Richard Leon rejected a request from lawyers for a group of Algerian detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to halt the administrative hearings that began last week.

The hearings are to determine whether the prisoners are being held properly. More are expected this week in a process expected to take as long as four months.

Human rights lawyers have argued that the military panels could hurt detainees' chances to eventually win their freedom through lawsuits in federal court.

The military has said the panels -- called combatant status review tribunals -- will be neutral, and any detainee found to be wrongly held will be freed. The panels were set up after the Supreme Court ruled in June that the detainees have a right to challenge their detention status in U.S. courts.

Lawyers for at least two groups of detainees have asked federal judges to intervene and stop the military hearings.

Leon's ruling on an emergency request filed Monday was mostly a victory for government lawyers, but defense lawyers saw two bright spots. Leon rebuffed government lawyers who argued that civilian courts lacked jurisdiction, and he said statements the detainees make in the military hearings can be excluded from hearings they may eventually have in federal courts, lawyers Robert Kirsch and Melissa Hoffer said.