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Appeals Court Overrules Constitution

The U.S. Supreme Court has shown great deference to the government in deciding matters of national security or military affairs, the appeals panel said. Apparently the government can suspend right to attorney representation even for US citizens.


Associated Press Writer
Published July 12, 2002, 12:21 PM CDT

RICHMOND, Va. -- A court must reconsider its order allowing an American-born suspected Taliban to meet with his lawyers, because the judge did not adequately consider the government's position that the prisoner is an enemy combatant, an appeals court ruled Friday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar's ruling that Yaser Esam Hamdi could meet privately with attorneys from the federal public defender's office.

Hamdi, 21, was captured in Afghanistan in November after a prison uprising by Taliban and al-Qaida members. He was held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until it was discovered that he was born in Louisiana to Saudi Arabian parents.

He was moved to the jail at the Norfolk Naval Base in April, where he has been held incommunicado as an enemy combatant.

Doumar ruled June 11 that Hamdi should be allowed to meet with lawyers and appointed the federal public defender to represent him. The appeals court said that ruling was premature because it was issued without first giving the government a chance to respond.

The appeals court rejected the public defender's argument that Hamdi, as a U.S. citizen, had a constitutional right to legal representation.

Doumar's order "was not merely a garden-variety appointment of counsel in an ordinary criminal case," Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote. "In the face of ongoing hostilities, the district court issued an order that failed to address the many serious questions raised by Hamdi's case."

Prosecutors had argued that Hamdi might pass secret messages to other terrorists through his attorneys and that his detention is needed for national security and to allow the government to gather intelligence from the war on terrorism from him.

The appeals court told Doumar to reconsider his ruling because it did not give due consideration to the government's claims.

"There is little indication in the order (or elsewhere in the record for that matter) that the court gave proper weight to national security concerns," Wilkinson wrote.

He said the lower court order "does not ask to what extent federal courts are permitted to review military judgments of combatant status. Indeed, the order does not mention the term enemy combatant at all."

The U.S. Supreme Court has shown great deference to the government in deciding matters of national security or military affairs, the appeals panel said.

"This deference extends to military designations of individuals as enemy combatants in times of active hostilities, as well as to their detention after capture on the field of battle," the court said.

Hamdi's birth certificate shows that he was born in Baton Rouge, La., where his Saudi parents once worked. He moved to Saudi Arabia with his parents while a child.
Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press



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