SEATTLE -- A US military lawyer assigned to defend Osama bin Laden's former driver, who is now a Guantanamo detainee, asserts in a lawsuit against the Bush administration that trying terror suspects by military tribunal violates US and international law.
The tribunal system is an unconstitutional expansion of executive branch powers, says the filing by Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, whose client is one of six detainees the administration has said it plans to try by tribunal.
Salim Ahmad Hamdan, a 34-year-old Yememi, was once bin Laden's $200-a-month driver and was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001. He is being held at the US naval base on Cuba.
The suit, filed in federal court this week, says the government has violated Hamdan's rights by holding him without charges. Swift says Hamdan could serve a life sentence without getting a chance to prove his innocence. A trial date has not been set.
A Defense Department spokesman, Major Michael Shavers, said yesterday the department had no comment. The administration has said it has wide legal latitude to interrogate detainees for extended periods since the nation's security is at risk.
The lawsuit argues that the Constitution grants Congress, not the president, the power to convene tribunals "inferior to the Supreme Court." The suit also says Hamdan's right to a speedy trial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention has been violated.
Slightly fewer than 600 detainees remain at Guantanamo. More than 130 have been freed, and a dozen others have been transferred to the custody of their home countries.
Swift's filing is the first direct challenge of the detentions. Another case, arguing that the government doesn't have jurisdiction because the detainees are not being kept on sovereign US land, is set to go before the Supreme Court this month.