WASHINGTON - A US judge "reluctantly" agreed to request from Washington to delay appeals brought by some 250 Guantanamo detainees challenging the legality of their detention.
Monday's decision came as four accused 9/11 conspirators, including confessed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, appeared for a second preliminary hearing at the US Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Judge Thomas Hogan, who is coordinating some 200 to 250 appeals in front of the federal courts, said in an order that he was granting the government's motion.
"The court is satisfied that the government is not dragging its feet in an attempt to delay these matters beyond what is necessary to protect the national security concerns associated with releasing classified information," the order said.
"Accordingly, the court further orders that the government shall file factual returns and motions to amend factual returns at a rate of at least 50 per month," he said in the order, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
Documents for the first 50 "habeas corpus" appeals are due by September 30, Hogan added.
In early June, the US Supreme Court ruled that prisoners detained in the US "war on terror" and held in Guantanamo Bay had the right to know on what charges they are being held.
More than 250 detainees, some of whom have spent several years at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, have submitted habeas corpus petitions to the court, arguing they are being held illegally without charge or trial.
At the beginning of July, Hogan laid out a timetable for ruling on all cases by the end of August.
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But at midnight on the eve of the deadline, the administration of President George W. Bush argued it needed more time to review and declassify key documents, and also to obtain security clearances for the roughly 50 attorneys assigned to the cases.
Critics accuse Bush of trying to delay the whole process, which weighs one of the most fundamental US constitutional rights -- protection against illegal detention -- until he leaves office in January.
In Monday's hearing, Mohammed and four co-defendants faced the Guantanamo court on charges including conspiracy, murder, attacking civilians, terrorism, and material support for terrorism linked to the 9/11 attacks which killed some 3,000 people.
Four of the defendants were present at the hearing, while Ramzi Binalshibh refused to appear, according to the Pentagon.
At the first preliminary hearing in June, the defendants sought to dismiss their legal teams.
They face the death penalty if convicted, and three of the defendants including Binalshibh demanded to be sentenced to death as they sought martyrdom.
No trial date has been set.