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Senate strips guantanmo detainees right to sue { November 11 2005 }

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Senate strips Guantanamo detainees of right to sue


November 11, 2005

The Senate voted last night to strip away the right of war-on-terror prisoners held at the military's Guantanamo Bay jail in Cuba to challenge their detentions in court.

The unusual provision, passed by a 49-42 vote, would reverse a Supreme Court ruling last year that permitted inmates to file habeas corpus petitions, triggering hundreds of lawsuits from prisoners who said they were being held with no basis.

"There has never been a time in our military history where an enemy combatant or prisoner of war has been allowed access to federal court to bring lawsuits against the people they are fighting," said Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who sponsored the provision.

But rights groups quickly protested, arguing that eliminating court oversight of the detentions would leave prisoners with no hope of fair hearings and further mar the U.S. image overseas, already battered by prisoner abuse scandals.

"This is one of the worst things the Senate has ever done," said Gita Gutierrez, a lawyer with New York's Center for Constitutional Rights, who has been coordinating prisoner lawsuits. "On the back of a cocktail napkin they have tossed aside protections of individual liberty that have been in existence for centuries."

Graham's provision, passed with votes from 45 Republicans and four Democrats, will be added to the Defense Authorization Bill, which the Senate is expected to pass next week. Opponents said they expected an effort to reverse the vote.

The Defense Authorization Bill already contains another controversial provision sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) prohibiting cruel or inhumane treatment of detained terror suspects and establishing standards for interrogation.

Graham, an Air Force lawyer, supports that provision, but the Bush administration has threatened to veto any bill with those restrictions on its detention and interrogation policies, arguing that intelligence agencies need greater latitude.

Graham said yesterday that his bill eliminating habeas corpus challenges would, at the same time, provide for reforms that would make military hearings fairer to detainees and give prisoners a right to have a military determination that should be reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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