The Supreme Court has decided to hear an appeal on whether Afghan war detainees being held at a U.S. military base in Cuba should have access to American courts.
For the first time, the nine-member Supreme Court has decided to consider a legal challenge arising from the anti-terrorism campaign launched by the Bush administration in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The high court says it will hear an appeal from British, Australian and Kuwaiti citizens who are among more than 600 detainees being held at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The detainees are being held because U.S. officials suspect they were fighting for either the Taleban or al-Qaida in Afghanistan. They are currently being held by the military and could face military tribunals.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and some human rights groups have criticized the United States for holding the detainees without filing formal charges or scheduling timely trials.
The appeal is supported by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. Steven Watt, a spokesman for the group, said "it is great that the Supreme Court has actually taken this and they are going to make a decision, which we hope will be in favor of our clients, that the United States courts will have some form of jurisdiction over the claims of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay."
The Supreme Court says it will determine whether the detainees should have access to the U.S. civilian court system. Lower courts have agreed with the Bush administration that the civilian court system does not have jurisdiction because the detainees are being held outside the country. The administration cites a World War II case in which German prisoners of war being held by the United States in China were denied access to federal courts.
A Supreme Court decision on the Guantanamo detainees is expected by June of next year.
In another ruling, the high court refused to hear an appeal from an Islamic charity that had its assets impounded by the U.S. government in the months following the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The charity, known as the Global Relief Foundation, says it was put out of business by the government crackdown. The Treasury Department says it shut down the charity after it found evidence of communication between foundation officials and Osama bin Laden's personal secretary.