U.S. Can Hold Citizens As Combatants
mikedf at amnh.org
Wed Jan 8 15:36:23 MST 2003
U.S. Can Hold Citizens As Combatants
1 hour, 34 minutes ago
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By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that the
government can hold U.S. citizens as enemy combatants during wartime
without the constitutional protections afforded Americans in criminal
In overturning a lower court ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals in Richmond, Va., said the status of 22-year-old Yaser Esam
Hamdi as a citizen did not change the fact he was captured in
Afghanistan while fighting alongside Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.
"Judicial review does not disappear during wartime, but the review of
battlefield captures in overseas conflicts is a highly deferential
one" to the government, the three-judge panel wrote.
Hamdi, the court added, is not charged with a crime in the United
States but is being held under "well-established laws and customs of
war ... the fact that he is a citizen does not affect the legality of
his detention as an enemy combatant."
Attorney General John Ashcroft hailed the decision, calling it "an
important victory for the president's ability to protect the American
people in times of war."
"Detention of enemy combatants prevents them from rejoining the enemy
and continuing to fight against America and its allies, and has long
been upheld by our nation's courts, regardless of the citizenship of
the enemy combatant," Ashcroft said in a statement.
Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 after a prison
uprising by suspected Taliban and al-Qaida members. He was at the
Mazar-e-Sharif prison uprising - where fellow U.S. citizen John
Walker Lindh was captured - and later was transported along with
hundreds of other alleged enemy soldiers to a prison at the U.S. Navy
base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It later was discovered Hamdi had been born in Louisiana to Saudi
parents. Hamdi and his family returned to Saudi Arabia while he still
was a toddler, but he never renounced his U.S. citizenship.
Hamdi has been held in a naval brig in Norfolk, Va., since April.
His case is seen by some as a major legal test case to determine the
government's ability to hold citizens without access to a lawyer or
the courts. If Hamdi can be imprisoned in a military jail with few of
the constitutional protections afforded Americans facing criminal
prosecution, critics say, then other U.S. citizens could be similarly
A federal judge in Norfolk, Va., agreed, ruling in August that Hamdi
should at least have a right to a lawyer and a chance to see the
government's evidence against him.
The circuit court in Richmond, Va., agreed that the case raises
serious questions about the rights of citizens but concluded that, in
wartime, the government's authority is supreme in deciding who may be
Hamdi, the judges said, was "squarely within the zone of active
combat" when captured and is being lawfully detained. The courts,
they added, have only limited authority to intervene in such national
"Any effort to ascertain the facts concerning the petitioner's
conduct while amongst the nation's enemies would entail an
unacceptable risk of obstructing war efforts authorized by Congress
and undertaken by the executive branch," the 54-page opinion said.
The court declined, however, to address the rights of U.S. citizens
who might be held as enemy combatants if captured on U.S. soil. Their
opinion is confined to a citizen who takes up arms against the United
States in a foreign country.
The three circuit judges deciding the case were James Harvie
Wilkinson III and William W. Wilkins, both appointed by President
Reagan, and William B. Traxler, who was appointed by President
Clinton. Their decision was unanimous.
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