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`Guantanamo prisoners can challenge detention'

By Sridhar Krishnaswami

WASHINGTON, JAN. 31. In a setback to the Bush administration, a federal judge has ruled that prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have legal rights and can challenge both their confinement and procedures in military tribunals as unconstitutional. The District Court Judge, Joyce Hens Green, said the suspects had constitutional protection under American law.

"The court concludes that the petitioners have stated valid claims under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and that the procedures implemented by the Government to confirm that the petitioners are `enemy combatants' subject to indefinite detention violate the petitioner's rights to due process of law," Judge Green said.

Following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and operations elsewhere, more than 540 suspects were held at the Guantanamo base as suspects in the war on terrorism. They have been classified as Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. The Bush administration argued that they had no constitutional right and therefore the law suits — in this instance pertaining to only 50 detainees — had to be dismissed.

But Judge Green said the procedures used for the tribunals were "unconstitutional" as they failed to conform with the requirements of due legal process. The Judge said detainees had not been given material evidence and the Government had failed to disclose classified information.

"...the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law is one of the most fundamental rights recognised by the U.S. Constitution," Judge Green noted. Her ruling is not the final word on the issue, analysts noted.

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