Friday, April 3, 2009

Bagram prisoners can contest detention in U.S. courts

The ruling is almost certain to be appealed by the government


WASHINGTON — Prisoners held by U.S. forces in Afghanistan can challenge their detention in U.S. courts, a federal judge ruled Thursday, rejecting the Obama administration's position.

The ruling – almost certain to be appealed by the government to the Supreme Court – may have sweeping ramifications. It means that hundreds of detainees held at Bagram Air Base may have the same access to U.S. courts as those at Guantanamo, which President Barack Obama vowed to shut down within a year.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Bates was limited only to non-Afghans captured outside of Afghanistan and held at Bagram, some for years. However, he also asked for further submissions on the rights of Afghans captured in Afghanistan and held by U.S. forces.

The ruling echoes high court judgments in Europe and Britain that battlefield captives have at least some rights in the courts of the country that captured them.

In Canada, the Harper government is vigorously contesting a federal court case brought by rights groups that argue Afghan detainees captured by Canadian forces have rights. That case is also expected to reach the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Yet again, a foreign court has held that legal rights 'follow the flag' when the military detains individuals abroad," Paul Champ, the lawyer representing Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Human Rights Association said. "Unfortunately, Canadian courts remain totally out of step on this fundamental human-rights issue."

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