- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004


The Supreme Court refused yesterday to speed up consideration of a challenge to the government’s plans to try foreign terror suspects before military tribunals.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was a driver for Osama bin Laden, won his appeal in U.S. District Court. His attorneys want to skip an appeals court and have the Supreme Court decide the legality of the trials planned for Hamdan and potentially hundreds of others classified as “enemy combatants” who are being held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Bush administration told the court that there was no legal reason to deal with Hamdan’s appeal more quickly and that justices should let the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit handle the matter first. It has scheduled arguments for March 8.

Hamdan, 34, has denied supporting terrorism, but the government contends that he was a member of al Qaeda and has charged him with conspiracy to commit war crimes, murder and terrorism.

The Bush administration has been criticized by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union for its plans for military commission trials. People tried before the commissions would not have the same legal rights as defendants in civilian courts.

“Our country has a pressing need to know that those implicated in that war [on terrorism] are being treated in the way the Constitution, our statutes and the laws of war demand,” lawyer Neal Katyal wrote in the appeal for Hamdan.

Yesterday’s action by the court does not dismiss the appeal. Justices still could agree to hear the case, but they won’t decide until early next year — potentially too late to hold arguments and issue a ruling before the end of the term in late June.

Last week, hundreds of members of the British and European parliaments encouraged the court to hear the appeal.

In other action yesterday, the court:

• Ruled that San Diego officials were justified in firing a policeman who sold sexually explicit videos of himself in uniform.

• Passed up a chance to consider whether states can ban members of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups from wearing masks at public gatherings.

• Heard arguments in a case that asks whether a black man was unfairly sentenced to death by a Texas jury stacked with whites.

• Rejected an appeal by the National League of Cities that sought to classify cable-based broadband as a “cable service.” That would have entitled cities to charge cable operators a 5 percent local tax.

• Declined to clarify standards for suing employers who rescind health benefits that they had promised in early retirement packages.

• Refused to consider whether a state may bar corrections employees from socializing with prisoners and their families outside of work.

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