Friday, January 13, 2006

US asks top court to dismiss Guantanamo case

US asks top court to dismiss Guantanamo case

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to dismiss a challenge to President George W. Bush's power to create military tribunals to put Guantanamo prisoners on trial for war crimes.

The administration's argument was based on a law signed by Bush on December 30 that limits the ability of Guantanamo prisoners caught in the president's war on terrorism to challenge their detentions in federal courts.

Administration lawyers said the new law applied to the Supreme Court case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of being Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and driver.

He had challenged the military tribunals before his actual trial, but administration lawyers said that under the new law he could bring a court appeal only after the commission proceedings against him had been completed.

The Hamdan case is considered an important test of the administration's policy in the war on terrorism. The tribunals, formally called military commissions, were authorized by Bush after the September 11 attacks and have been criticized by human rights groups as being fundamentally unfair.

There are about 500 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Charges have been brought against nine people, including Hamdan. Pretrial hearings were held in two cases this week.

The administration cited the same new law in moving last week to dismiss more than 180 cases in U.S. district court in Washington involving Guantanamo inmates who have challenged their detention.

The legislation signed by Bush on December 30 bans cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners. The anti-torture law also curbs the ability of prisoners being held at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba to challenge their detention in federal court.


One of Hamdan's attorneys, Neal Katyal, had no immediate comment on the Justice Department's motion to dismiss the case.

Hamdan's lawyers previously told the high court the new law did not prevent the justices from considering the merits of his claims.

They also filed a request for habeas corpus relief directly with the Supreme Court in a bid to get around the jurisdictional problems and make sure the case can go forward.

It was not known when the court would decide whether to dismiss the case.

Justice Department lawyers told the Supreme Court that Hamdan's appeal should be dismissed without reaching the merits of the issue because of a lack of jurisdiction.

"Under well-settled principles, Congress's decision to remove jurisdiction over this action and others must be given immediate effect," Solicitor General Paul Clement said in 23-page motion filed with the Supreme Court.

"By establishing an exclusive review procedure for military commission challenges, Congress has made plain its judgment that judicial review of military commission proceedings should occur only after those proceedings have been completed," he said.

Department lawyers said Hamdan under the new law may seek review in the U.S. appeals court in Washington of any final decision rendered against him by a military commission.

(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles)