Contests Military Trials of Detainees at Cuba Base
By NEIL A. LEWIS
April 8, 2004
7 - A military lawyer for a detainee at the Guantánamo
Bay Naval Base in Cuba has filed the first lawsuit directly challenging
the military tribunal system that has been set up to try prisoners
including his client.
The lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, filed the suit in his own
name on Wednesday in Federal District Court in Seattle, his hometown.
It asserts that the Bush administration's plans for his client
violate the Constitution, federal law and the nation's obligations
under the Geneva Conventions.
A Defense Department
spokesman, Maj. Michael Shaver, declined to comment, saying Pentagon
lawyers were still reviewing the papers.
The suit is another
avenue of contesting the administration's plans to use military
tribunals to try Guantánamo detainees, captured in the
war in Afghanistan. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments
on April 20 on a different challenge, dealing mainly with whether
the prisoners at Guantánamo are beyond the reach of American
law because the naval base is not United States sovereign territory.
Commander Swift represents
Salim Ahmed Hamdan, one of six prisoners at Guantánamo
who have been designated by President Bush as subject to charges
before a military tribunal. Commander Swift said Mr. Hamdan, whom
he met for the first time on Jan. 30, had authorized him to file
the suit on his behalf because he himself had no access to the
courts. Prof. Neal Katyal of the Georgetown University Law Center
is in turn acting as Commander Swift's lawyer.
The suit asserts
that Mr. Hamdan, a Yemeni, was never involved with Al Qaeda or
with any military action against American forces in Afghanistan.
He is described as a Muslim pilgrim who went to Afghanistan on
the way to Tajikistan. Failing to get there, the papers say, he
took a job as a driver on Osama bin Laden's Afgan farm and later
became a driver for Mr. bin Laden himself.
The tribunal system
set up by the administration does not provide for review in any
civilian courts. Appeals may be taken only up the military chain
The new suit, before
Judge Robert S. Lasnik, asserts that the Constitution guarantees
civilian court review of the military justice system. Military
officials have contended that the prisoners are unlawful enemy
combatants and as such are not entitled to the protections of
American law or international treaties.