SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A federal appeals court blocked a legal challenge to the detention of the roughly 600 Afghan war prisoners being held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a coalition of clergy members and professors could not represent the prisoners being held at the base in Cuba.
The Coalition of Clergy, Lawyers and Professors sued on behalf of the prisoners, many of whom have been held in Cuba for about a year. The suit alleged they have been deprived of their liberty and have not been informed of the accusations against them, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
But the appeals court declined to address the complaints, instead ruling the clergy did not have legal standing to seek redress for the detainees. The court declined to rule on whether individual prisoners could bring cases.
The government says federal courts have no power over U.S. military policy carried out in a foreign nation as part of the nation's war on terrorism.
"The military has acted within its authority in detaining noncitizens captured in combat outside of the United States," said Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock.
The San Francisco-based federal appeals court, which upheld the ruling of a Los Angeles federal judge, said the dozen or so members of the coalition had no legal standing to represent the detainees' interests. To be granted that status, the three-judge panel wrote, the coalition members would need to have had a preexisting relationship with the detainees or prove that the prisoners had mental defects.
"Even assuming the detainees are unable to litigate on their own behalf," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw ruled, the coalition "has failed to demonstrate any relationship with the detainees."
When the case was argued in July, Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement told the appeals panel that "No United States court has jurisdiction over the individuals." Wardlaw suggested that the case may be premature because the detainees may one day be tried.
The coalition demanded that the government provide the prisoners with lawyers, bring them before a U.S. court, acknowledge their identities and define the charges against them. The detainees are from some 36 countries.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said that authorities were interrogating prisoners to build cases and gather intelligence. He said they could be sent home, ordered to stand before military tribunals or other courts, or be kept indefinitely at Guantanamo.
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