LOS ANGELES – A federal judge said Tuesday he has "grave doubts" whether he has jurisdiction over more than 100 prisoners captured in Afghanistan and detained by the military in Cuba.
U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz did not rule on a petition demanding the federal government identify the men, disclose specific reasons for their detention and allow them to appear in court.
Instead, the judge gave federal prosecutors until Jan. 31 to file papers calling for dismissal of the petition on jurisdictional grounds. He said the petitioners could then file a response and he would hold another hearing Feb. 14.
"This matter has implicit and obvious importance to the public and our system of law that requires we proceed in ... an efficient matter," Matz said during the 20-minute hearing.
Federal attorneys said they would file for dismissal of the case.
Attorney Stephen Yagman, a member of the Committee of Clergy, Lawyers and Professors that filed the petition, also asked the judge to forbid the federal government from moving the detainees while the petition is under consideration.
Matz denied that request, saying he has "grave doubts whether [the court] has jurisdiction."
Outside court, Yagman argued that any federal court has jurisdiction in the matter. It's "un-American" to detain the prisoners in Cuba without allowing them due process of law, he said.
The coalition includes former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark of New York and other civil rights advocates. Their motive "is to see that the law in the United States is followed," Yagman said.
The government has taken 158 prisoners from the U.S. base at Kandahar to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, including 14 who arrived Monday.
The inmates have typically been brought to Cuba in shackles and handcuffs, wearing blacked-out goggles, ear muffs and surgical masks to keep them from biting.
U.S. officials say the restraints are needed because some captives have threatened to kill American guards.
The petition alleges prisoners are being held in violation of the Geneva Conventions and 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 University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, a coalition member. "Someone should be asserting their rights under international law."
"They are being treated humanely," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted during a Pentagon news conference Tuesday.
"This is not wonderful duty. It is difficult duty," he said. "To stop future terrorist attacks, we have detained these people and we have and will be questioning them together for additional intelligence information."