Supreme Court Hearing Guantanamo Cases

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Several hundred spectators lined up at the Supreme Court on Wednesday to watch lawyers for the Bush administration and 305 detainees in custody at Guantanamo Bay argue over the indefinite detention of foreign terrorism suspects, many of them held at the military facility for nearly six years.

About 50 court watchers camped out overnight in front of the court so that they could be assured of seats inside for the argument.

"We're rooting for our law professor; we hope he wins," said Alex Fumelli, a senior at Georgetown University, whose law professor, Seth Waxman, is arguing the case for the detainees.

Another Georgetown student who overnighted in front of the court, Qais Ghafary, said that he hopes for a ruling in which the justices allow the detainees to have challenges to their detention heard fully, regardless of whether it is through civilian courts or through military proceedings.

Lawyers for the detainees want the right to contest detention in U.S. civilian courts. The 305 men are held at Guantanamo as "enemy combatants."

It is the third time since 2004 that the Supreme Court has examined the administration's detention program.

The justices have ruled against the administration in the two earlier cases.

Lawyers for the foreign detainees argue that the courts must step in to rein in the White House and Congress, which changed the law to keep the detainee cases out of U.S. courts following earlier Supreme Court rulings. The most recent legislation, last year's Military Commissions Act, strips federal courts of their ability to hear detainee cases.

Waxman, the top Supreme Court lawyer in the Clinton administration, is representing the detainees. "After six years of imprisonment without meaningful review, it is time for a court to decide the legality of" their confinement, Waxman said.

Solicitor General Paul Clement, representing the administration, said foreigners captured and held outside the United States "have no constitutional rights to petition our courts for a writ of habeas corpus," a judicial determination of the legality of detention.

The case could turn on whether the court decides that Guantanamo is essentially U.S. soil, which would make the case for detainee rights stronger. Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely thought to be a pivotal vote in this case, said as much in a concurring opinion in Rasul v. Bush, the 2004 case that was the court's first foray into the administration's detention policies.

"Guantanamo Bay is in every practical respect a United States territory," Kennedy said.

The administration also argues that panels of military officers that review the detainees' status as enemy combatants are adequate, even if the Supreme Court decides they have the right to contest their confinement.

The justices, however, decided to review the issue in June, after having turned down the detainees' appeal in April. They provided no explanation, but their action followed a declaration from a military officer who criticized Combatant Status Review Tribunals.

The United States has no plans to put most of those held at Guantanamo on trial. Just three detainees face charges under the Military Commissions Act and the military has said it could prosecute as many as 80.

The consolidated cases are Boumediene v. Bush, 06-1195, and Al Odah v. U.S., 06-1196.

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