WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court was asked Wednesday to consider if the government has unconstitutionally imprisoned an American-born man captured during the fighting in Afghanistan (search).
Yaser Esam Hamdi (search) is being held in a naval brig in South Carolina, without access to attorneys and without charges being filed against him.
"The man's been locked up for two years," said Frank W. Dunham Jr., a federal public defender who filed the appeal on his behalf. "He wants an opportunity to be heard in court. It goes right to the heart of our liberties."
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) in Richmond, Va., ruled in January that the government has wide latitude to detain people caught fighting against the United States on foreign soil during wartime, without giving them traditional legal rights.
Dunham told justices in a filing that the appeals court not only "embraced an unchecked executive power to indefinitely detain American citizens suspected of being affiliated with enemies, but it also abandoned procedural safeguards designed to promote truth and fairness."
The Bush administration has maintained the detention is constitutional and important for national security. The administration has about a month to file a response in Hamdi's case.
So far, the Supreme Court has refused to hear any cases stemming from the terrorist attacks and the government's war on terror.
A pending appeal asks justices to consider whether 660 terrorist suspects are being wrongly held in Cuba without charges or access to attorneys.
Hamdi was among the Guantanamo Bay (search) military prison detainees, who are suspected of ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime. He was moved to the United States when authorities learned that he was born in Louisiana, before his parents moved the family to Saudi Arabia.
The government has said Hamdi was captured after an uprising of Taliban prisoners in November 2001.
Like the inmates in Guantanamo Bay, Hamdi has been classified as an enemy combatant.
The detentions of Americans without legal rights has been criticized by groups including the American Bar Association, the nation's largest lawyers' group.
In addition to Hamdi, being held as enemy combatants at the brig at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station are Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member charged with plotting to detonate a so-called dirty bomb, and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been accused of being an Al Qaeda sleeper agent.
The case is Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.