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Human-Rights Groups Question Government's Right to Detain
Published on Monday, September 9, 2002 in the Seattle Times
Human-Rights Groups Question Government's Right to Detain
by Raju Chebium

WASHINGTON — A year after the deadliest attacks on U.S. soil, at least 127 people remain in custody in this country, and the Pentagon has begun adding 200 cells to the 600 nearly filled with foreign detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The detainees — many Muslim noncitizens living permanently or temporarily in this country — were among an estimated 1,200 rounded up under the government's post-Sept. 11 secret arrests, detentions and interrogations, a policy that worries civil-liberties advocates and human-rights groups.

Most domestic detainees have been questioned and released. Many were deported. The government won't say how many.

Nearly a year after Sept. 11, 52 noncitizens still were in custody on immigration violations, according to the latest figures from the Justice Department.

An additional 75 people were either serving sentences or awaiting trial on a variety of federal criminal charges. And an undisclosed number were being held as "material witnesses," the agency said in early September.

Internationally, nearly 600 people from Afghanistan, Pakistan and 30 other nations were captured by U.S. soldiers and taken to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, where they remain, and an undisclosed number are being held at a U.S. air base in Bagram, Afghanistan.

Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said in early September that military contractors will finish building more than 200 cells at Guantánamo by October because space is running out.

Critics say a nation that lectures the rest of the world about civil and human rights shouldn't be engaging in secretive arrests and indefinite detentions. None of the 1,200 domestic detainees has been charged with a terrorism-related crime, they note.

Separately, a six-member panel of the American Bar Association issued a report in August criticizing the Bush administration for detaining some U.S. citizens as enemy combatants and denying them the right to lawyers.

At least two U.S.-born people are being designated as enemy combatants. They are Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S.-born Taliban prisoner being held in Virginia, and Jose Padilla, suspected of plotting to explode a bomb with radioactive materials, sometimes called a dirty bomb, and being held in South Carolina.

The Justice Department has said identifying the detainees is not a good idea. They say suspects would be reluctant to cooperate if they knew their names would be publicized, innocent people could be linked unfairly to Sept. 11, and terrorists would know which of their associates were in U.S. custody.

However, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler agreed with civil-rights groups that the names don't need to be secret.

In an Aug. 2 ruling, she ordered the government to identify domestic detainees and their lawyers before the end of the month. The Justice Department has appealed.

In another legal blow to the Bush administration, a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court Aug. 26 ordered the government to open deportation hearings.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unconstitutional the government's policy of barring the public and media from deportation hearings deemed a "special interest" to the anti-terrorism campaign.

The government was considering whether to appeal the ruling, which came in a case involving Rabih Haddad, a Michigan activist identified as a terror suspect in the government's legal filings.

Critics of the Guantánamo detentions lost a legal round Aug. 1 when U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the Cuba detainees don't have a right to U.S. court hearings.

That decision, which came in two lawsuits filed on behalf of 14 of the detainees, allows the military to hold them indefinitely without filing charges.

In a battle over semantics, the Bush administration argues that al-Qaida and Taliban fighters weren't part of a conventional army but a loose-knit terrorist militia. Therefore, they aren't prisoners of war but "enemy combatants."

"No detainee has been harmed. No detainee has been mistreated in any way," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in January.

"And the numerous articles, statements, questions, allegations and breathless reports on television are undoubtedly by people who are either uninformed, misinformed or poorly informed."

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company


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