WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Thursday that three detainees at a U.S. military prison in Afghanistan may challenge their confinements, writing that the detainees' situation was "virtually identical" to those held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The ruling came in lawsuits brought by detainees held at the prison at the Bagram Air Force Base north of Kabul.
In his opinion, U.S. District Judge John Bates compared their cases to the Guantanamo detainees, who won the right to challenge their confinements in federal court under a landmark Supreme Court ruling last year. Thursday's decision is the first time that right has been extended to detainees held by U.S. forces outside Guantanamo.
Outside experts said the ruling raises complicated questions for the Obama administration as it reviews detention policies, especially for terror suspects captured overseas. Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the government was reviewing the opinion.
The Justice Department, under the Obama administration, had agreed with the position of the Bush administration that the Bagram prisoners were not entitled to question their detention in U.S. civil courts, telling Bates it would "adhere to its previously articulated position" that the men had no right to habeas corpus, a legal doctrine that permits people to challenge their imprisonment before judges.
The government had argued that such rights do not extend to foreigners held by the United States in war zones.
Bates tossed that argument aside, drawing a distinction between detainees captured on the battlefield and those brought to Bagram from other parts of the globe.
"It is one thing to detain those captured on the surrounding battlefield at a place like Bagram," Bates wrote. "It is quite another thing to apprehend people in foreign countries — far from any Afghan battlefield — and then bring them to a theater of war, where the Constitution arguably may not reach."