White House loses in rulings


Summary

Yesterday's surprise rulings on Omar Ahmed Khadr and Salim Ahmed Hamdan threaten to torpedo Washington's pursuit of terrorism suspects.

The judges found the two men had no jurisdiction to proceed with military commission trials as neither Khadr nor Hamdan had been classified as an "unlawful enemy combatant", as required by a recent US law.

But White House spokesman Tony Fratto says the White House doesn't agree with the rulings.

He says the tribunals remain appropriate for dealing with foreign terrorism suspects held in Guantanamo Bay.

The cases

In one case Canadian man Omar Khadr was accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan with a grenade.

But the judge handling his case, Colonel Peter Brownback, dismissed murder and other charges levied against him.

Charges were also dropped against Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of being Osama Bin Laden's driver and bodyguard.

He was just 15 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan, and was accused of killing a US soldier during a battle at a suspected al-Qaeda base in 2002.

‘In legal limbo’

However lawyers say both Khadr and Hamdan will remain in legal limbo at this base in south-east Cuba along with nearly 400 other detainees rounded up or handed over to US forces since the September 11 attacks of 2001.

"If nothing else," the rulings "highlight that the judges operate independently," said Major Beth Kubala, spokeswoman for Guantanamo Bay's Office of Military Commissions.

Prosecutors were granted a 72-hour delay to the Khadr and Hamdan rulings while they consider their options for appeal.

Appeals court still to be created

However, the appeals court envisioned in the Military Commissions Act (MCA), rushed through Congress in September following the Supreme Court ruling on Hamdan, has yet to be created.

Human Rights Watch has called for terrorist suspects to be tried in US civilian courts, and for the elimination of the military commissions.

Crucial rulings

So-called combatant status review tribunals (CSRTs) have conferred the description of "enemy combatant" on hundreds of suspects held without charge at Guantanamo.

But in a pivotal point for the judges at yesterday's tribunals, none of the suspects still at the camp has been labelled "unlawful" by a CSRT, so legally they could be viewed as fighting for a legitimate state.

One time-consuming option for the government would be to convene a new round of CSRT tribunals for the Guantanamo detainees, to officially label them "unlawful" and press ahead with prosecutions.

The rulings came as President George W Bush prepared to kicked off a European tour that will take him to the Group of Eight summit in Germany tomorrow.


Yesterday's surprise rulings on Omar Ahmed Khadr and Salim Ahmed Hamdan threaten to torpedo Washington's pursuit of terrorism suspects.

The judges found the two men had no jurisdiction to proceed with military commission trials as neither Khadr nor Hamdan had been classified as an "unlawful enemy combatant", as required by a recent US law.

But White House spokesman Tony Fratto says the White House doesn't agree with the rulings.

He says the tribunals remain appropriate for dealing with foreign terrorism suspects held in Guantanamo Bay.

The cases

In one case Canadian man Omar Khadr was accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan with a grenade.

But the judge handling his case, Colonel Peter Brownback, dismissed murder and other charges levied against him.

Charges were also dropped against Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of being Osama Bin Laden's driver and bodyguard.

He was just 15 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan, and was accused of killing a US soldier during a battle at a suspected al-Qaeda base in 2002.

‘In legal limbo’

However lawyers say both Khadr and Hamdan will remain in legal limbo at this base in south-east Cuba along with nearly 400 other detainees rounded up or handed over to US forces since the September 11 attacks of 2001.

"If nothing else," the rulings "highlight that the judges operate independently," said Major Beth Kubala, spokeswoman for Guantanamo Bay's Office of Military Commissions.

Prosecutors were granted a 72-hour delay to the Khadr and Hamdan rulings while they consider their options for appeal.

Appeals court still to be created

However, the appeals court envisioned in the Military Commissions Act (MCA), rushed through Congress in September following the Supreme Court ruling on Hamdan, has yet to be created.

Human Rights Watch has called for terrorist suspects to be tried in US civilian courts, and for the elimination of the military commissions.

Crucial rulings

So-called combatant status review tribunals (CSRTs) have conferred the description of "enemy combatant" on hundreds of suspects held without charge at Guantanamo.

But in a pivotal point for the judges at yesterday's tribunals, none of the suspects still at the camp has been labelled "unlawful" by a CSRT, so legally they could be viewed as fighting for a legitimate state.

One time-consuming option for the government would be to convene a new round of CSRT tribunals for the Guantanamo detainees, to officially label them "unlawful" and press ahead with prosecutions.

The rulings came as President George W Bush prepared to kicked off a European tour that will take him to the Group of Eight summit in Germany tomorrow.