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Courts rule against U.S. policy of indefinite detentions
A setback for Bush's attack on our rights

By Nicole Colson | January 2, 2004 | Page 2

THE CIVIL liberties shredders of the Bush administration didn't get what they wanted for Christmas. Two separate federal court decisions delivered on December 18 struck a blow to the Bush gang's policy of indefinite detentions in the "war on terror."

In one case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bush administration can't infinitely imprison non-U.S. "enemy combatants" at Camp Delta, the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Bush administration has repeatedly argued that the 660 prisoners--most of whom were captured during the U.S. war on Afghanistan--could be held without charges, or the right to legal representation or a trial.

In a sickening example of its twisted logic, the administration claimed that the prisoners had no right to representation in U.S. courts...because the military prison is on land that is "leased" from Cuba. But the judges of the Ninth Circuit Court disagreed. "We simply cannot accept the government's position that the executive branch possesses the unchecked authority to imprison indefinitely any persons, foreign citizens included...without permitting such prisoners recourse of any kind to any judicial forum," they declared in their decision. The White House is planning an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a separate ruling, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bush administration doesn't have the right to detain Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen seized on American soil, as an "enemy combatant." Arrested in May 2002 for supposedly being part of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the U.S., Padilla was declared an "enemy combatant" by Bush in June 2002 and transferred to a South Carolina Navy brig.

Since then, Padilla has been barred from communicating with his family, his lawyer or any non-military personnel--on the grounds that he poses a threat to national security. The appeals court judges found that Bush didn't have the authority to strip Padilla of his constitutional rights.

Under the ruling, the administration has 30 days to release Padilla from military custody. But he most likely won't escape the Pentagon's clutches, either. That's because federal prosecutors can still detain Padilla as a material witness, or charge him with a criminal offense and have him indicted in federal court.

And the court's decision still allows Bush to go to Congress and request the powers that the court denied. As Amnesty International's U.S. director William Schultz told Reuters, "The court has clearly said that the president cannot unilaterally detain individuals without access to a lawyer, but it also laid the groundwork for future detentions in denial of basic rights, providing he has permission from Congress."

Meanwhile, abusive treatment of post-September 11 detainees was in the news again last month, as the Justice Department's inspector general issued a report saying that immigrants kept at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in New York City were beaten and verbally abused by as many as 20 guards. At least 30 detainees at the MDC had reported being slammed into walls, having their arms and hands wrenched, and being subjected to racist comments and improper strip searches by prison officers.

But the Justice Department originally refused to bring charges against any officers, saying that no videotape proof of the allegations existed. But investigators suddenly "discovered" more than 300 such tapes.

Some show prison staff slamming detainees against the wall by their heads or necks. In one case, the tapes show federal prison guards pushing detainees' faces into a T-shirt hanging on the wall that had a picture of the U.S. flag--and the words "These colors don't run." The new report says that four corrections employees admitted that the shirt, which hung in a prisoner receiving area for months, was covered with blood stains.

The inspector general is now recommending disciplinary action against 10 guards. But this will do nothing to punish those in the Bush administration responsible for whipping up the witch-hunt against Arabs and Muslims following September 11.

As ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero put it, "Hundreds of immigrants were detained even though they had no connection to the terrorist attacks, and now we find out that the government abused many of them while in detention. Clearly, the Justice Department's war on terrorism quickly became a war on immigrants."

Bush's orange alert fraud

THE BUSH administration took advantage of the holiday season to whip up more hysteria about terrorism--by putting the country on yet another "orange-level" terror alert. U.S. intelligence officials reportedly told French officials that al-Qaeda members were planning to board Air France flights to Los Angeles during the Christmas holidays.

Washington's seven suspects were apparently on a "watch" list. But after canceling six Air France flights December 24 and 25 between Paris and Los Angeles, interrogating more than a dozen passengers, and briefly detaining six, France's anti-terrorism unit said that there was zero evidence of a plot.

None of the passengers on the canceled flights were found to have any link with Islamic extremist groups. "There was absolutely nothing there," a spokesman for the French Interior Ministry told the New York Times.

In the end, the orange alert may have been another scare tactic by the Bush administration to justify a "fishing expedition" to invade our privacy. Officials from the Homeland Security Department met recently with officials from France and Mexico as part of an effort to get foreign airlines to provide U.S. officials with more information about people on flights to the U.S.

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