SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court blocked a legal challenge to the detention of the 600 or so Afghan war prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, giving the Bush administration a major victory in its war on terrorism.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a coalition of clergy members and professors could not represent the prisoners being held at the base in Cuba.
The Coalition of Clergy, Lawyers and Professors sued on behalf of the prisoners, many held in Cuba for about a year. The suit alleged they have been deprived of their liberty without lawyers and have not been informed of the accusations against them, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
But the appeals court declined to address that issue, and instead ruled the clergy did not have legal standing to seek redress for the detainees. And the court declined to rule on whether individual prisoners could bring their own cases.
The government’s position is that the federal judiciary has no power over U.S. military policy being carried out in a foreign nation as part of the nation’s war on terrorism.
“The Justice Department is pleased the 9th Circuit accepted the government’s argument that the detention of Taliban and al-Qaida combatants in Guantanamo Bay cannot be challenged by the plaintiffs,” department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said. “The military has acted within its authority in detaining noncitizens captured in combat outside of the United States.”
The decision, which upholds a Los Angeles federal judge, follows an August ruling by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia. Kollar-Kotelly ruled that suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters held in Cuba do not have a right to U.S. court hearings, allowing the military to hold them indefinitely without filing charges.
In that case, involving two Britons, an Australian and 12 detained Kuwaitis, the judge said the prisoners are not in the United States and thus do not fall under the jurisdiction of federal courts. That case is on appeal.
The San Francisco-based federal appeals court did not go that far, but simply said the dozen or so members of the Coalition of Clergy, Lawyers and Professors had no legal standing to represent the detainees’ interests. To be granted that status, the three-judge panel wrote that the coalition must have a preexisting relationship with them or prove that the prisoners had a mental defect prompting others to intervene on their behalf.
“Even assuming the detainees are unable to litigate on their own behalf,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw ruled, the coalition “has failed to demonstrate any relationship with the detainees.”