INTERNATIONAL

Legality of Camp X-Ray challenged

LEFT TO THEIR FATE?: Detenus at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in this March 2002 file photo.  

Washington oct. 10. In a move that is intended to convey a message to the Bush administration, particularly the Pentagon, a group of former federal court judges, diplomats, military officials and human rights activists have appealed to the United States Supreme Court to review the case of the detenus in the Guantanamo Bay Base in Cuba — and elsewhere — who have been held in the name of terrorism.

"The idea that American executive branch personnel, particularly military personnel, can detain people beyond the reach of habeas corpus is just repugnant to the rule of law," said John Gibbons, former Chief Judge of the Federal Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Mr. Gibbons has also brushed aside the argument of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the District of Colombia that since the detenus are aliens and held outside the American territory, they are not entitled to rights under the Constitution.

"The idea of treating this Navy base...as not American territory is ludicrous. It's in total control of the United States and has been (so) for a century."

The group of concerned persons has filed at least seven friend-of-the-court briefs questioning the legality of the detentions and the treatment of the prisoners not only under the American Constitution but also under the Geneva Conventions and International Law. The briefs have been filed in support of the appeals of 16 captives — two Britons, two Australians and 12 Kuwaitis — who are seeking hearings on their detentions.

The U.S. government, which holds more than 650 terrorism suspects from about 42 countries, considers the detenus as enemy combatants and not as prisoners- of-war who are entitled to a range of rights and protections under international law. In fact, Washington has even deemed that a handful of them could be put through military tribunals.

One of the members involved in the filing of the briefs was the former Assistant Secretary of State, William Rogers, who has stressed that the policy had an adverse impact on the foreign policy."These prisoners stand in a kind of purgatory. They are beyond the reach of the rule of law which is the very essence of America's role in the world."

A senior retired Pentagon official who was also the Judge Advocate General for the United States Navy, Rear Admiral Donald Guter, argued that there could be no excuses for disregard of the law in the name of fighting terrorism, making the point that the war on terrorism could take a long time and it could be years before the detenus had a chance for hearing.

"For all intents and purposes, these folks are condemned to a long time on Guantanamo Bay in the prison camps without even an opportunity to have their issues aired, their situation reviewed by a tribunal," he said. Meanwhile, a senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross has criticised the open-ended detention without legal process. "One cannot keep these detainees in this pattern, this situation indefinitely," said Christphe Girod in an interview to New York Times.