LOS ANGELES – A federal court hearing was set for Tuesday morning on a petition from civil rights advocates challenging the detention of terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.
U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz decided late Sunday night to consider the petition, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by a coalition of Los Angeles clergy, journalism professors and civil rights attorneys.
The attorney for the petitioners is Stephen Yagman, known for representing plaintiffs in police abuse cases.
It is the first court challenge of the detention of Al Qaeda suspects and demands that the U.S. government bring the suspects before a court and define the charges against them.
Various issues were to be considered at the 8 a.m. hearing.
Among them are whether the petitioners exhausted military and administrative procedures, whether they have standing to pursue the case, and whether the court has jurisdiction over prisoners held in Cuban territory leased to the U.S. government.
"The only information I have right now is the primary topic of the hearing will be to discuss whether or not the lawyers who filed the petition have standing, meaning do they have the right to come into court and raise the issues that they are trying to raise," said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.
The petition was prepared on behalf of about 110 Al Qaeda suspects who were taken into custody in Afghanistan and transferred to the U.S. Navy base in Cuba.
It alleges they are being held in violation of the Geneva Convention and the U.S. Constitution, and seeks to guarantee due process and to block any transfer of the detainees from the base.
"These individuals were brought out of their country in shackles, drugged, gagged and blindfolded, and are being held in open-air cages in Cuba," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at the University of Southern California who is among the petitioners. "Someone should be asserting their rights under international law."
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said the detainees are being held for questioning and some could face a military tribunal, while others could be referred to criminal courts.