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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 21:26 GMT
Judge's 'doubts' over Cuba prisoners
US soldiers escort a prisoner
The US denies it is violating human rights
An American judge has said he has "grave doubts" about whether he has the right to rule on the treatment of prisoners captured in Afghanistan and detained by the military in Cuba.

Guantanamo Bay's climate is different than Afghanistan. To be in a eight-by-eight cell in beautiful sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is not inhumane treatment

Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary
A group of civil rights advocates is challenging the detention of 158 al-Qaeda and Taleban prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, saying it violates international law and the United States constitution.

But during a 20-minute hearing in Los Angeles, District Judge Howard Matz did not rule on a petition from the groups demanding that the US Government identify the men, disclose specific reasons for their detention and allow them to appear in court.

Instead, he gave lawyers for the US Government until 31 January to file papers calling for dismissal of the petition on jurisdictional grounds.

  • Buckets for toilets
  • Thin foam mattresses
  • Beards shaved

    Clickable guide: Inside Camp X-Ray

  • He said the petitioners could then file a response and he would hold another hearing on 14 February.

    Attorney Stephen Yagman, a member of the Committee of Clergy, Lawyers and Professors that filed the petition, also asked the judge to forbid the federal government from moving the detainees while the petition was under consideration.

    Judge Matz denied that request, saying: "I have grave doubts about whether I have jurisdiction."

    There has been international concern over the prisoners' treatment after it emerged they had been handcuffed, blindfolded and shackled; had had their beards shaved; were being forced to live in small cells; and, in some cases, were sedated on the flight from Afghanistan.

    The US has classed the detainees as "illegal combatants" rather than prisoners of war, denying them rights enshrined in the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war.

    Prisoners shackled and kneeling
    The US said the prisoners were only restrained for a short while
    But US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the captives were being treated humanely and to suggest otherwise was "just plain false".

    Speaking to reporters in Washington on Tuesday, he defended America's treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, saying: "What's going on down there is responsible, humane, legal, proper and consistent with the Geneva Convention."

    Mr Rumsfeld said the detainees had to be restrained to protect US servicemen guarding them, some of whom had been attacked and bitten by the prisoners.

    None of the captives had been harmed, the defence secretary said, adding that they were receiving "warm showers, toiletries, water, clean clothes, blankets, regular, culturally appropriate meals, prayer mats, and the right to practice their religions".

    The human rights group Amnesty International has said it wants to follow up an International Red Cross visit to the prisoners with one of its own.

    'American Taleban'

    The leader of the Red Cross team which met the prisoners said they had had good access to them.

    Urs Boegli said he had been able to shake their hands and offer them a biscuit and a cigarette.

    Mr Boegli declined to comment on the prisoners' condition, but said a team would stay in place to continue monitoring their treatment.

    Meanwhile, the man people are calling The American Taleban, John Walker Lindh, is expected to arrive in the US within the next day.

    Mr Walker had been held on the US warship Bataan in the Indian Ocean.

    He was then moved to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, from where a plane took off on Tuesday to fly him to the US to face trial on charges of conspiring to kill US nationals and providing support to the al-Qaeda terror network.

    The BBC's Stephen Sackur in Washington
    "The Americans are adamant the treatment is humane"
    Ramsay Clark, Former US Attorney General
    "You can't just hold people... under conditions that are apparently coercive"
    Professor Adam Roberts
    "I'd be surprised if this case got too far"
    See also:

    22 Jan 02 | Americas
    ICRC cautions US over pictures
    22 Jan 02 | UK Politics
    UK would oppose death penalty
    21 Jan 02 | Americas
    US sedates terror suspects
    21 Jan 02 | Media reports
    US on trial over prisoners in Cuba
    20 Jan 02 | Americas
    In pictures: Camp X-Ray prisoners
    17 Jan 02 | Americas
    Life in a Guantanamo cell
    28 Dec 01 | Americas
    Destination Guantanamo Bay
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