Thursday, November 02, 2006

Guantanamo prisoners challenge new terrorism law

Guantanamo prisoners challenge new terrorism law
By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawyers for some Guantanamo prisoners urged a U.S. appeals court on Wednesday to strike down as unconstitutional a key part of the tough anti-terrorism law that President George W. Bush signed last month.

They said the new law does not give the U.S. government the power to arrest suspects overseas and imprison them indefinitely without any charges and without allowing them to challenge their detention in U.S. court.

A provision of the law unconstitutionally suspends the right under habeas corpus, a long-standing principle of American law, of the detainees to contest their imprisonment, they said.

The attorneys, who represented six Algerians captured in Bosnia who have been in U.S. custody since 2002, said the authors of the U.S. Constitution recognized that people held in prison without being charged "must retain the right to obtain a court inquiry."

The Bush administration says the new law means the appeals court no longer has jurisdiction to consider pending appeals filed by scores of inmates at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The law states: "No court, justice or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined ... to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination."

Immediately after Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law, the U.S. Justice Department informed the courts they no longer had jurisdiction over some 200 cases covering more than 400 Guantanamo prisoners.

The Bush administration is expected to respond in the case by November 13.

The court could rule later this year or early next year, but any decision likely will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would have the final word on the law's constitutionality.

The law was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling in June that said Bush lacked the legislative authority in setting up his first system of military commissions after the September 11 attacks.

That prompted Bush to go to Congress to get authority under the new law authorizing tough interrogation and prosecution of terrorism suspects under a new system of military commissions.