Judge rules indefinite confinement violates terror suspects' rights
BREAKING NEWS NBC News and news services
Updated: 10:58 a.m. ET Jan. 31, 2005

WASHINGTON - A federal judge ruled Monday that some foreign terror
suspects held in Cuba can challenge their confinement in U.S. courts and she
criticized the Bush administration for holding hundreds of people
indefinitely as "enemy combatants," saying that doing so
unconstitutionally violates their right to due process.

U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green, handling claims filed by more than
50 detainees, said the U.S. Supreme Court made clear last year that the
prisoners have constitutional rights that lower courts should enforce.

"The petitioners have stated valid claims under the Fifth Amendment to
the United States Constitution that the procedures implemented by the
government to confirm that the petitioners are 'enemy combatants'
subject to indefinite detention violate the petitioners' rights to due process of law," Green
wrote in her 75-page opinion (requires Adobe Acrobat).

The war on terror "cannot negate the existence of the most basic
fundamental rights for which the people of this country have fought and died for well
over 200 years," she added.

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She also wrote that the detainees had filed "valid claims" under the
Geneva Convention, which mandates humane treatment of prisoners of war.

Bush administration attorneys had argued that as "enemy combatants,"
the prisoners have no constitutional rights and their lawsuits,
challenging the conditions of their confinement and seeking their
release, must be dismissed. They also have argued that the suspected
terrorists are not covered by the Geneva Convention since the accused
were not engaged in an armed conflict between nations.

The tribunals, formally called a military commission, at the base were
authorized by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but
have been criticized by human rights groups as being fundamentally
unfair to defendants.

Green's opinion was the unclassified version made available for public
release. It stemmed from 11 cases involving Guantanamo prisoners.

Her ruling probably will not be the final word on the issue. A
different federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 19 dismissed the
cases of seven Guantanamo prisoners on the grounds that they have no
recognizable constitutional rights and are subject to the military
review process.

The cases could be appealed to the U.S. appeals court, and then
ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. NBC News' Pete Williams and the
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to
this report.