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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 10:21 GMT
US court rejects Cuba camp challenge
A prisoner is carried on a stretcher by two US soldiers at Guantanamo Bay
The men's detention has been a contentious issue
A US federal court has ruled that a civil rights group cannot legally challenge the detention of around 600 al-Qaeda and Taleban prisoners currently being held by US authorities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


The reality is you're dealing with people from another country, whose family may not even know where they are or [who] may not have the resources to hire an American lawyer

Law professor Erwin Chemerinsky
The group, known as the Coalition of Clergy, Lawyers and Professors, had sued on behalf of the men.

They alleged that by depriving them of the right of access to lawyers and not informing them of the charges against them their constitutional rights were being violated.

However, upholding an earlier court decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco avoided comment on the issue of civil rights, instead finding that as the group did not have a pre-existing relationship with the detainees they could not act on their behalf.

"We accept the coalition's concern for the rights and welfare of the detainees... as genuine and sincere," the court said in its decision.

"Nevertheless, it has failed to demonstrate any relationship with the detainees, generally or individually."

The decision echoed an earlier court finding in Washington DC in August when, in a case involving foreign nationals captured while fighting for the Taleban in Afghanistan, a judge found that the US had no legal jurisdiction over detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

In that case, involving 14 foreign nationals including two Britons, the judge said that the prisoners were not on US soil and therefore did not fall under the jurisdiction of federal courts.

Rights debate

The US Justice Department said it was "pleased" with the San Francisco court's decision, Reuters news agency reported.

However law professor Erwin Chemerinsky from the University of Southern California said that without such legal challenges "there's no way to protect the rights of these individuals".

"The reality is you're dealing with people from another country, whose family may not even know where they are or [who] may not have the resources to hire an American lawyer," he told the Associated Press news agency, adding that the group may ask for a re-hearing.

Cells at Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo Bay detainees are designated as enemy combatants

The legal status of those being detained in Camp Delta and its predecessor Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay has been a contentious issue for the US Government.

In February US President George W Bush designated the detainees as "illegal combatants".

As a result, the detainees are not receiving legal representation from the US legal system, family visits or information as to how long they may be held.

The US rejected calls for them to be classed as prisoners of war as they were not considered part of a recognisable military hierarchy.

Being classed as prisoners-of war would allow the detainees to benefit from the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee a wide range of rights to captives.


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31 Oct 02 | Europe
22 Mar 02 | Americas
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