A federal appeals court Monday blocked a challenge to the detention of the 600 Afghan war prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, ruling that a group of clergy members and professors have no legal standing to represent them.
The Coalition of Clergy, Lawyers and Professors sued on behalf of the prisoners, many held at the base in Cuba for about a year. The lawsuit alleged they have been deprived of their liberty without lawyers and have not been informed of the accusations against them, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to address that issue, and instead ruled the clergy did not have legal standing to seek redress for the detainees. The court declined to rule on whether individual prisoners could bring their own cases.
"Without allowing this lawsuit, there's no way to protect the rights of these individuals," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a University of Southern California law professor who brought the suit. "The reality is you're dealing with people from another country, whose family may not even know where they are or may not have the resources to hire an American lawyer."
"We're pleased," Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said.
The government says the federal judiciary has no power over U.S. military policy being carried out in a foreign nation as part of the nation's war on terrorism. The coalition asserted that Guantanamo Bay is an American territory and that rights under the U.S. Constitution therefore apply.
The decision upheld a ruling by a Los Angeles federal judge in February.
It also follows an August ruling by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia in a similar case. Kollar-Kotelly ruled that suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters held in Cuba do not have a right to U.S. court hearings, allowing the military to hold them indefinitely without filing charges.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that authorities were interrogating prisoners to build legal cases as well as gather intelligence. He said they could stand before military tribunals or other courts, be sent to their home countries for prosecution or be kept indefinitely at Guantanamo.