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Suspects’ rights ‘ignored by US’

Daily Telegraph, UK
Apr. 29, 2004
Alec Russell in Washington • Thursday April 29, 2004

The Bush administration has ignored the fundamental rights of two American terrorism suspects by jailing them and denying them access to lawyers and courts, the Supreme Court was told yesterday.

America vs. Human Rights

“The United States has long regarded itself as a beacon of human rights, as evidenced by an enlightened constitution, judicial independence, and a civil society grounded in strong traditions of free speech and press freedom. But the reality is more complex; for decades, civil rights and civil liberties groups have exposed constitutional violations and challenged abusive policies and practices. In recent years, as well, international human rights monitors have documented serious gaps in U.S. protections of the human rights of vulnerable groups. Both federal and state governments have nonetheless resisted applying to the U.S. the standards that, rightly, the U.S. applies elsewhere.”
Human Rights Watch

The court was hearing two human rights cases with far-reaching implications for individual liberties. People queued all night to get into the hearing.

The key issues are what rights Americans have when they are designated “enemy combatants” and how far President George W Bush’s authority can and should extend over judicial matters on issues of national security.

Jose Padilla, a convert to Islam who was arrested in Chicago over an alleged “dirty bomb” plot, and Yaser Hamdi, captured in fighting in Afghanistan, are both held in a naval prison off South Carolina without charge.

The administration argues that it has unilateral authority to order the arrest of enemy combatants even on American soil and that they can be detained until the end of the war on terrorism.

But their lawyers and human rights groups say they have been stripped of their basic rights and that the White House has overstepped its authority.

“We could have people locked up all over the country tomorrow, with no opportunity to be heard. Congress didn’t intend for widespread, indefinite detentions,” Frank Dunham, the lawyer for Mr Hamdi, told the court.

Paul Clement, the deputy solicitor-general, said a president, as commander-in-chief, has wide-ranging powers under the constitution to detain suspected terrorists as “enemy combatants”.

Mr Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, was held at Chicago airport in May 2002 and accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive bomb.

He was transferred to military detention the following month and has never been charged. He saw a lawyer for the first time in March. A ruling is expected in the summer.

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