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Supreme court will hear first cases involving detainees

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Supreme Court will hear first cases involving Guantanamo detainees

From the Wolf Blitzer Reports staff in Washington:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More than 600 prisoners from some 40 countries are being held in near-isolation, by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

One of them is Fawzi al-Odah, a Kuwaiti national picked up in Pakistan, suspected of being a member of al Qaeda.

His father, who fought alongside U.S. forces in the first Gulf War, said his son was an aid worker, teaching Islamic studies to the poor.

"He went in 2001, trying to help people and teach them. Then 9/11 happened, and he was caught there during the war," Khalid al-Odah told CNN last January.

Neither Fawzi al-Odah, nor any of his fellow detainees, has ever had access to a lawyer.

Now, The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two appeals, on whether the detainees at Guantanamo are being held illegally.

The Bush administration argues that this is lawful. A war on terror is ongoing and U.S. troops are in conflict overseas, against what the White House calls an "un-principled, un-conventional and savage foe."

"It can be argued from the government's side that there's no greater priority now than the war on terror, no greater enemy. The Bush administration is saying these men are prisoners of war, we cannot give them lawyers," says CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

The court will decide if U.S. constitutional law has any jurisdiction over the holding of foreign nationals by the U.S. government on the soil of another sovereign nation.

One other complication: Some detainees are from nations allied with the U.S. in the war on terror. And the Bush administration has promised at least two of those countries, Britain and Australia, that the cases of their citizens at Guantanamo would get special review.

This is the first time the Supreme Court will have examined the enforcement of the sweeping anti-terrorism policies enacted since September 11, 2001.

The court refused to even consider previous appeals. Why now?

"The fact that the Supreme Court has taken these cases doesn't mean that they are ready to open the courthouse doors to people being detained in Gitmo. All it means is that this is an incredibly important constitutional question that we need to know the answer to now and we're going to need to know the answer for centuries," says constitutional law expert Tom Goldstein.

Arguments will be heard sometime early next year. A ruling is expected by June.

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