Apr. 8, 2005 – The debate over whether the US government can use its highly criticized military tribunal system to try detainees captured in the war on terror and held at GuantÃ¡namo Bay continued yesterday in a federal appeals court. In court yesterday, lawyers for the Bush administration defended the tribunal system, appealing a previous ruling by a lower court that had ruled the system unconstitutional as applied to at least one detainee. Though that ruling had only addressed the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the decision had triggered a halt to all of the scheduled criminal tribunals.
At yesterdayâ€™s hearing, the Bush administration argued that US judges should give the president wide latitude and refrain from interfering in an ongoing military operation. Conversely, lawyers for Hamdan, argued that the lower court had correctly perceived that their clientâ€™s civil and human rights had been violated.
At issue was the Bush administrationâ€™s designation of the GuantÃ¡namo detainees as "enemy combatants," a label the Defense Department claims exempts the prisoners from protections granted by the Geneva Conventions. Whereas prisoners of war have specified rights under the Convention, the rights of so-called "enemy combatants" are not addressed.
US District Judge Robertsonâ€™s previous ruling, which the Bush administration was appealing yesterday, disregarded the governmentâ€™s assertion that the president can decide who is and who is not a prisoner of war. Instead, Robertson found that a "competent tribunal" must be convened to determine the matter and that unless such a commission decides Hamdan is not a prisoner of war, he must be afforded all relevant rights of a person protected by the Conventions.