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White House Criticizes US Court Rulings on Legal Rights for Suspected Terrorists - 2003-12-19


The White House is criticizing two U.S. court rulings that seek to scale back the president's ability to restrict legal rights for suspected terrorists.

The Bush Administration is challenging a federal appeals court ruling that more than 600 prisoners at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba cannot be held indefinitely without access to lawyers or U.S. courts.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over non-U.S. citizens held abroad by the U.S. military.

"Keep in mind that what we are talking about are enemy combatants, people that were involved in plotting and planning attacks against the United States of America or American citizens abroad," he noted. "That is why they have been designated as enemy combatants. We are at war on terrorism and this is a long-standing authority that the president of the United States has had in order to carry out his most-solemn obligation, which is to protect the American people."

Mr. McClellan says the president will continue to "do what it takes" to protect the American people in a way that upholds and respects the U.S. Constitution.

The Justice Department is denying access to legal counsel for those imprisoned at Guantanamo until authorities are satisfied those suspects have disclosed everything they know about terrorist activities.

A second federal court ordered the Bush Administration to release or charge a suspected terrorist because it ruled the president does not have the right to hold Americans on U.S. soil as enemy combatants without approval from Congress.

Mr. McClellan calls that decision "troubling and flawed" and says President Bush has directed the Justice Department to seek a stay and further judicial review.

He says the decision is inconsistent with the president's "clear constitutional authority" to designate who is an enemy combatant in the fight against terrorism.

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