The Bush administration argued yesterday that the president can detain enemy combatants at a military prison in Cuba as long as necessary to protect national security and that they have no constitutional rights to hear charges against them.
Facing a deadline yesterday to give a federal judge some answers about 60 people held at a U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the government filed a 96-page response detailing the reasons it believes it need not explain why they were detained or account for how long they might be imprisoned.
The Justice Department argued that the war powers of the president and the federal government are intentionally broad and specifically allow for the capture of enemy combatants "to prevent the captured individual from serving the enemy" and renewing hostilities.
"Detention of enemy combatants is an integral and inexorable part of the Commander-in-Chief's power to defend the nation and vanquish the enemy," government lawyers wrote.
The government began transferring hundreds of men captured in the Afghan war to Guantanamo in early 2002, accused them of being "enemy combatants" and contended that it was not required to formally charge them or allow them to see attorneys. Officials cited security concerns in holding them incommunicado. The Supreme Court disagreed in June, and several dozen detainees have sued in federal court in Washington, demanding hearings.
In papers filed late yesterday evening, the government also objected to the argument of plaintiffs' lawyers that their clients are unfairly labeled as enemy combatants because they were captured far from Afghanistan battlefields or in other countries or were found without a weapon.
"The detention powers of the Executive, not less than the terrorist threat they aim to repel and defeat, obviously do not stop at the geographic borders of Afghanistan," the government wrote.
Researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.