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The Bush administration urged a federal appeals court Wednesday to block a challenge to the detention of the 600 or so Afghan war prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The government argued that the federal judiciary has no power over U.S. military policy being carried out in a foreign nation as part of the nation’s war on terrorism. “No United States court has jurisdiction over the individuals,” Paul Clement, a deputy solicitor general, told a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The prisoners, some of whom have been held as long as six months at the U.S. base in Cuba, haven’t been charged or given attorneys. A coalition of clergy, lawyers and professors is demanding the government provide the prisoners with lawyers, bring them before a U.S. court, acknowledge their identity and define the charges against them. “If we continue to hold them as we do, we will become them. It’s a paradox,” civil rights attorney Stephen Yagman told the appeals court. Clement said the judges should uphold a lower court judge who dismissed the suit, saying the coalition has no legal standing to represent the detainees. Ninth Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw suggested the case may be premature because the detainees may one day be tried. The court did not indicate when it would rule. A half-year after the United States began taking suspected terrorists to the U.S. base in Cuba, the temporary prison has grown to nearly 600 prisoners from some 36 countries. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said in February that authorities were interrogating prisoners to build legal cases as well as gather intelligence. He said they could stand before military tribunals or other courts, be sent to their home countries for prosecution or be kept indefinitely at Guantanamo. The government, which said U.S. constitutional rights don’t apply to the prisoners, cited a World War II-era case in which 21 Germans detained in China were imprisoned in Germany after a U.S. military tribunal. The Supreme Court ruled in 1950 that federal courts did not reach to these foreign citizens prosecuted in foreign lands, even if the prosecution was at the hands of the United States. But the civil rights coalition seeking to represent the detainees asserted that Guantanamo Bay is an American territory, and that rights under the U.S. Constitution therefore apply. The government, however, argues that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t protect the detainees because Cuba retains all “sovereign” authority over the base. It says the 1903 lease from Cuba and a subsequent 1934 treaty says Cuba retains “ultimate sovereignty.” Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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