Friday, May 21, 2010
Indefinite detentions overseas become Obama administration's dilemma
U.S. citizens who thought last year's change at the top meant a return to the days before al-Qaida and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington got another reality check Friday when a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that terror suspects captured overseas may not challenge their detentions in U.S. courts. The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel means that three detainees held for years without trial at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan did not have the same right of appeal that suspects being held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, won in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008, according to the New York Times. The ruling reversed a trial judge's decision that the Bagram detainees -- in this case, two men from Yemen and one from Tunisia who claimed they were captured outside Afghanistan and brought to the U.S. base -- had the same rights as prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Critics and supporters of the Bush administration's aggressive post-9/11 detention policies, which Obama criticized while campaigning but has defended in court, reacted to the ruling with expected vehemence. A lawyer for the detainees, Tina Foster of the New York-based International Justice Network, said the appeals court ruling would allow U.S. presidents to “kidnap people from other parts of the world and lock them away for the rest of their lives” without ever having to prove that they were guilty of anything, the Times said. “The thing that is most disappointing for those of us who have been in the fight for this long is all of the people who used to be opposed to the idea of unlimited executive power during the Bush administration but now seem to have embraced it during this administration,” she said. “We have to remember that Obama is not the last president of the United States.” But U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), a backer of the Bush-era detentions, told the Times that the ruling was a "big win" for the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. “Allowing a noncitizen enemy combatant detained in a combat zone access to American courts would have been a change of historic proportions,” he said. “There is a reason we have never allowed enemy prisoners detained overseas in an active war zone to sue in federal court for their release. It simply makes no sense and would be the ultimate act of turning the war into a crime.” A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, Dean Boyd, declined to comment on the decision, the Times said. The three prisoners say they are not terrorists and are being held by mistake.