- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A federal judge said Tuesday that those Guantanamo detainees who have been held the longest likely will be the first to have their cases heard in U.S. District Court, depending on security concerns and their health.

“It’s logical to me to go on a first in, first out basis,” Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan said during a hearing Tuesday.

Still unresolved is whether any of roughly 200 detainees will be brought in person to the District of Columbia for the hearings to determine whether the military can continue to imprison them at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Judge Hogan said he plans to decide by Thursday or Friday how quickly the Bush administration must submit evidence against the detainees to defense attorneys. The evidence would determine when their cases are heard.

Some of the detainees have been held since 2002 without trial. Their only legal proceedings have been military tribunals that, their attorneys say, might have included evidence coerced through aggressive interrogation techniques.

Justice Department attorneys said one in five detainees at Guantanamo already is cleared for release, and that they are looking for a country where 54 prisoners could be sent.

Tuesday’s hearing was the first time attorneys for the detainees were allowed to represent habeas corpus rights of their clients in court. Habeas corpus refers to the legal right of prisoners to challenge their detention.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that the detainees must be given hearings, despite a Bush administration policy that denied them a right for their cases to be heard in U.S. civilian courts.

The hearing handled administrative issues required before court appearances of the detainees, such as schedules; orders for transferring prisoners; and whether some of the detainees’s cases can be consolidated into a single procedure.

Judge Hogan ordered that 17 Uighur detainees associated with the East Turkistan Islamic Movement - which the military links to al Qaeda and the Taliban - should have their cases consolidated.

Their cases are so closely “tied together by nationality and political beliefs” that they do not need separate hearings, Judge Hogan said.

He told Justice Department attorneys to sideline their regular caseload to make the Guantanamo hearings a top priority.

“The time has come to move this issue forward,” Judge Hogan said.

Shayana Kadidal, attorney for the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, said security will be a concern in determining whether detainees are transferred to Washington for hearings.

“I would imagine that the most likely outcome will be videoconferencing,” Mr. Kadidal said. “But that will vary depending on circumstances.”

When direct testimony from detainees is not needed, they are unlikely to make court appearance in the District.

“In other cases, the detainees’ testimony might be important,” he said.

The issue would be resolved by individual judges, but probably not before fall, he said.

During the hearing, he accused the Justice Department of “excessive delay” in submitting evidence against the detainees to their attorneys.

Mr. Kadidal is a lead attorney among about 200 lawyers representing the detainees.

He said the government has been compiling evidence for as long as six years and that it should be given to the detainees’ attorneys promptly.

“We feel they should be able to do that by the end of next week,” Mr. Kadidal said.

Assistant Attorney General Gregory G. Katsas said evidence the Justice Department is collecting is based on “continuing and improving gathering of intelligence” from the military. Evidence from years ago could be outdated, he said.

He also said the Justice Department is in the process of hiring more attorneys to handle the cases. Four were assigned to the cases, but the Justice Department wants 50 for the Guantanamo hearings.

Mr. Katsas warned against hurrying the procedures.

“This is serious business in the middle of a war,” Mr. Katsas said.

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