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US civil court to rule on legality of Guantanamo detentions

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-12-09

A US civil court will review the case of six Algerians detained at Guantanamo who claim their incarceration is illegal. Some 250 prisoners remain at the base, and all of them have filed Habeas Corpus challenges.

Six Algerians detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the last seven years are to become on Thursday the first prisoners to challenge their continued imprisonment in a US federal court.
  
The prison at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, where some 800 men classified as "enemy combatants" have been held without trial, is a central piece of outgoing US President George W. Bush's "war on terror."
  
After years of legal wrangling, the US Supreme Court in June granted Guantanamo detainees access to the civil court system and the right to file Habeas Corpus cases challenging their detention. The case of the Algerians is the first of a series of such cases.
  
"It is not a trial over these men being guilty or innocent, it is only a trial about whether the president can say legally that based on these facts and this law, 'I have a basis for holding these men'," defense lawyer Robert Kirsch told AFP.
  
Some 250 prisoners remain in the military base, and all of them have started Habeas Corpus challenges.
  
The prisoners have each passed before Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) where they were classified as enemy combatants, a ruling that justifies their continued detention under Bush administration guidelines.
  
Of the 250, only 20 have been charged and must stand trial in front of a military tribunal for "war crimes."
  
In October, a federal judge ordered a group of 17 Chinese Muslim Uighurs to be released in the United States after they were no longer considered enemy combatants. The decision is being appealed.
  
The Algerians, who also hold Bosnian nationality, were arrested in Bosnia following a request from the US embassy in Sarajevo, according to their attorneys.
  
"Bosnia is terrified" of the United States, according to Stephen Oleskey, a lawyer for the Algerians, who noted that US officials had command of UN forces in Bosnia at the time.
  
"In a speech President Bush gave in January 2002, he said that the Americans had broken a terrorist cell that was going to attack the American embassy," added Kirsch.
  
Algerian police investigated the men for three months without finding any evidence before US officials asked that they be detained.
  
Then in October 2008 the government "dropped the claims and suddenly another theory is coming out," Kirsch said.
  
One of the Algerians, Belkacem Bensayah, is accused of consulting with an Al-Qaeda operative in Afghanistan -- a charge not supported by evidence, according to the defense.
  
The five other Algerians are accused of planning to travel to Afghanistan to fight against US-led forces.
  
The US government also alleges links between the men and Algerian terrorist group Armed Islamic Group (GIA) -- again without basis, according to their attorneys.
  
Judge Richard Leon, a conservative named by president Bush, is to preside the trial Thursday.
  
The six detainees -- Bensayah, 46, Lakhdar Boumedienne, 42, Mustafa Ait Idir, 38, Mohamed Nechla, 40, Hadji Boudella, 43, and Saber Lahmar, 39 -- will not be present but will have a telephone link for some of it.
  
Parts of the trial will be behind closed doors while classified information is presented.
  
Attorneys for the Algerians have accused the US government of using delay tactics to push back the date of the first hearings. Officially, the trial has been slow to start because it requires sensitive intelligence documents to be declassified.
  
The attorneys say the delays are really due to fears the government will be embarrassed when they produce documents showing that the 'confessions' of the Algerians were obtained under duress or even torture.
  
Boumedienne is said to be particularly suffering from his detention after going on a hunger strike. He is being force-fed by a tube inserted into his stomach through his nose.
  
"Twice a day he is strapped onto a chair at seven points," said Oleskey.
  
"One side of his nose is broken, so they put it (the tube) in the other side ... Sometimes it goes to his lung instead of his stomach. He can't say anything because he has the mask on: that's torture," Oleskey said.

Date created : 2008-11-06

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