Lawyers debate 'enemy combatant'
WASHINGTON - A federal court judge who is hearing a historic case involving Guantanamo Bay detainees lashed out yesterday at Congress and the Supreme Court for not defining "enemy combatant," a label that can trigger a suspect's detention without charge for the duration of a war.
In a rare public hearing, US District Judge Richard J. Leon said that question remains unresolved more than six years after suspects were first brought to Guantanamo Bay. "We are here today, much to my dismay, I might add, to deal with a legal question that in my judgment should have been resolved a long time ago," Leon said.
"I don't understand, I really don't, how the Supreme Court made the decision it made and left that question open. . . .I don't understand how the Congress could let it go this long without resolving" it, Leon said.
Leon spoke before lawyers representing six Algeria-Bosnian suspects who argued that their clients should not be considered enemy combatants because they were not captured on the battlefield and are no longer accused of a specific terrorist plot.
Lawyers representing the US government argued that the men should be considered enemy combatants because they showed an intent to support anti-American fighters in Afghanistan.
The detainees won the right to petition Leon for their release in June, after the Supreme Court ruled that they have a constitutional right to a hearing.
Leon said that he would issue a ruling Monday as to whether the men were enemy combatants before beginning a series of closed-door hearings evaluating the evidence against them. The detainees' case, brought pro bono by the Boston law firm WilmerHale, is the first to reach the trial stage.