Three federal appellate judges in Washington, D.C., yesterday expressed doubts about the government’s argument that hundreds of foreign nationals imprisoned indefinitely at a U.S. military base in Cuba have no right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts, the Washington Post reports. The comments came during oral arguments in the dispute over whether the Bush administration is properly detaining prisoners at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and whether special tribunals it established are sufficient to determine the detainees’ guilt or innocence. The case stems from a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that the detainees are entitled to a “competent tribunal” to decide whether they are indeed enemy combatants, as well as the chance to contest the charges against them.
The government determined that all but 38 of 558 prisoners were enemy combatants. The judges expressed doubts that the detainees had the same rights to due process as U.S. citizens accused of crimes. They disputed the government’s assertion that none of the prisoners, most of whom were seized in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, has a right to challenge his detention in U.S courts. Judge David Sentelle said of a hypothetical suspect taken to Guantanamo based on mere suspicion: “Suppose [the military] said, ‘There’s no real evidence, but we decide he looks like al Qaeda.’ ” You can’t just say we have a right to arrest and detain people as enemy combatants because they look like al Qaeda.”