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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 05:01 GMT 06:01 UK
US judge rejects Cuba prisoners' claim
Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay
About 600 prisoners are being held at Guantanamo Bay
A judge in the United States has ruled that foreign nationals captured fighting with the Taleban in Afghanistan cannot be tried before a US court.

The men's families had argued that they should have their cases heard in a US federal court because they were effectively being held on US territory at the Guantanamo Bay Naval base in Cuba.

Watchtower at Guantanamo Bay
The men's families argued they were being held on US territory
But District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said the US legal system had no jurisdiction over the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The men - two Britons, an Australian and 11 Kuwaitis - have been held at the US naval base, along with nearly 600 other prisoners, since last year.

Prosecutors had feared that a successful lawsuit would open the way for other detainees at the base to make similar claims.

Rights 'violated'

Lawyers for the families of the men - Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal from the UK, Australian David Hicks, and the Kuwaitis - had argued they should have the right to know why they were being held and have access to legal counsel.

British detainee Shafiq Rasul
Briton Shafiq Rasul is among those being held

They also claimed they should have the same rights to the US legal system as Cubans who sought political asylum in the US.

British lawyer Stephen Jakobi, director of Fair Trials Abroad, predicted the men would appeal to the Supreme Court.

He said: "We have consistently tried to get these people out of legal limbo and into some sort of fair trial situation.

"We think it's a disgrace to civilised society and the American Government that nothing whatsoever has been done to try these people in any form of fair trial."

The US Government has refused to class the detainees as prisoners-of-war because, it says, they were not part of a recognisable military hierarchy, and therefore did not merit the rights of PoWs.

The families' lawyers argued that that decision violated the US constitution's guarantee of due process.

They said the men might be held indefinitely or could end up appearing without representation before a military tribunal, which had the power to impose the death penalty.

Victory to Bush

Rejecting the men's case, Judge Kollar-Kotelly said there was a "crucial distinction" between the detainees and Cuban asylum seekers who had a "credible fear of political persecution".

She also said the men might not be held indefinitely because global courts, the United Nations and the men's own governments had the power to ask the US about their fate.

However, Mr Jakobi said the men could spend the rest of their lives locked up without trial.

He said: "Nothing has happened and they could be there for the rest of their lives.

"There will surely be an appeal to the Supreme Court.

"We do not deny the Americans their right to try them but they need to be tried."

The BBC's Rob Watson in Washington says the judge's ruling is a major victory for the Bush administration, which has been anxious to keep the detainees away from the US legal system.

There are now about 600 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, none of whom has yet been charged with any crime.


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