- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Lawyers have filed suit demanding the U.S. government justify its detention of nine foreign terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The challenges, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Washington, are the first since the Supreme Court’s ruling last week that the prisoners may use American courts to contest their detentions.

“This is the beginning of trying to enforce precisely what the Supreme Court mandated as a way to obtain justice,” said Jeffrey Fogel, legal director of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. “The first step is that the government has to respond.”

Challenges were filed on behalf of two British citizens, three French citizens, a German Turk, a Palestinian refugee from Jordan, an Iraqi refugee and a Canadian.

More lawsuits are expected on behalf of other prisoners. About 600 men from more than 40 countries are being held on suspicion of links to al Qaeda or the fallen Taliban regime of Afghanistan.

Some of the detainees have been at the prison for more than 2 years, with little or no contact with the outside world. Just four have had access to lawyers and three have been charged. Those named in the petitions Friday are not among them.

Mr. Fogel said the petitions were filed by lawyers from various law firms working in conjunction with the Center for Constitutional Rights. The lawyers were acting with the consent of the prisoners’ families, he said.

In the petitions, some of which named multiple detainees, the attorneys said the government exceeded its constitutional authority and asked the court to “declare that the prolonged, indefinite and restrictive detention of [the detainees] is arbitrary and unlawful.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal organization, also sent Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld a letter demanding access to 53 prisoners at Guantanamo. The Pentagon had yet to respond.

“No decision has been made on how we are going to comply with the Supreme Court ruling,” said Maj. Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman. “The ruling wasn’t simple and while we certainly will comply, the exact manner is still being discussed.”

The Bush administration contends the men are “enemy combatants” who pose a threat to America and can be held without legal rights. The Supreme Court rejected the administration’s argument that the detainees could not take their complaints to U.S. courts.

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