UNITED NATIONS - The United States is more concerned about its image than the law in its handling of terror suspects held at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a lawyer for the detainees said on Wednesday.
As the U.S. Supreme Court nears an April 20 hearing on a lawsuit challenging the detention of 16 of the Guantanamo prisoners, Washington is suddenly scrambling to send a message to the court that "we are doing something, trust us," said Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
Following the high court's surprise decision last November to review the case, Washington has granted minimal rights to some of the detainees and has pledged to release dozens of them, Ratner told a news conference at U.N. headquarters.
Two of the five Britons freed on Tuesday were among the 16 the center is representing in its suit, Ratner said.
Since November, "they have freed a number of people," he said. "Shortly after we got the review, they said, 'We plan to release approximately 140 people."'
The United States is holding about 640 individuals from 44 different countries at Guantanamo Bay, caught in what Washington calls the global war on terrorism.
Human rights groups criticize the United States for holding the prisoners, some for more than two years, without charges or legal representation and without access to their families.
The lawsuit seeks to have the detainees released and sent home to either be charged or freed. Washington says they are foreign combatants to whom U.S. laws and legal protections do not apply. The Guantanamo base is not on U.S. soil.
Ratner said it appeared Washington was choosing which detainees to free at least partly on the basis of whether their home country had supported the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
Five suspects from Britain -- Washington's closest ally in the invasion -- had been freed but none from France, which opposed the Iraq war, he said.
"It demonstrates to me the arbitrariness of the whole system," Ratner said.
"You have a completely unlawful prison camp and you have those countries that are close to the United States getting some of their detainees out.
"But the French, because of their position on the Iraq war, apparently have gotten nobody out yet."
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