Accessibility links

Bush, Rumsfeld Sued by Families of Guantanamo Base Detainees - 2002-02-19

Lawyers have gone to court in Washington to demand the release of three men who they say are being detained unlawfully at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Both President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are named as defendants in a lawsuit brought by the families of two British men and one Australian who have been detained for several months at a U.S. military camp at Guantanamo Bay. The lawsuit demands the three be brought to trial or released without charge.

All three are being held along with several hundred other detainees, their fate as well as legal status uncertain because of the Pentagon's refusal to classify those picked up in Afghanistan as prisoners of war.

Even though the three are not Americans, lawyer Michael Ratner of New York's Center for Constitutional rights went to court to argue that their right to due process under the U.S. Constitution has long been established.

"We're saying this is a process that everybody is entitled to, that it's for hundreds of years it's been a rule that people can not be jailed and arrested simply at the behest of one person, in this case President Bush and kept there without any charges. If they're dangerous, if there's something they've done wrong, if they're in a conspiracy, they should be charged. If they're not, they can not be detained," he said.

A spokesman for the Pentagon's Southern Command would not comment on the case. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has said suspected al-Qaida and Taleban members could be held indefinitely because of the terrorist threat they pose, a view reinforced by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on Fox Television Sunday, who did not rule out bringing the detainees before a military tribunal.

"I think the most important thing right now is to focus on the fact that first of all, these are dangerous people and they're still trying to hurt people. They make threats all the time and we've got to keep them secure. Our principle objective is to get whatever information we can get them to give us about networks elsewhere," he said.

Experts who have been monitoring the plight of the detainees believe the Pentagon is reluctant to file charges against them and thereby give them the right to remain silent at a time when interrogators have been gleaning information from some of them about terrorist networks and plots. Last week, the FBI issued an unusually explicit warning to the public about the possibility of another terrorist attack against the United States, information which the Justice Department says was obtained during interrogations of war captives held at Guantanamo Bay.