Is the Bush administration going soft on suspected terrorists? Last week, Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan and held without charges for two years, was allowed to meet with a lawyer. Australian David Hicks became the first detainees at Guantanamo Bay to gain access to lawyers. Meanwhile, the chief author of Ashcroft’s controversial Patriot Act, Viet Dinh, has backed providing more legal rights to those in custody deemed “enemy combatants.”
Time magazine reports that in the Hamdi and Hicks cases, it appears that the Justice Department has gained ground in a struggle with the Pentagon, which has jurisdiction and has taken a harder line. Justice has long argued that Hamdi should be given legal rights. One source of friction, a former Justice official tells Time, is the Pentagon’s refusal to let FBI agents question two of the three “enemy combatants” held in the U.S.
Justice argues that giving suspects access to attorneys offers defendants more incentive to cooperate and bargain for a lesser sentence. Also: “Justice takes a longer view,” says a former department official, “and wants cases set up to survive in the Supreme Court.”