WASHINGTON – A federal court has been asked to stop military hearings that will decide if the Pentagon can continue holding hundreds of terror suspects at a Navy base in Cuba.
Last week the Pentagon (search) held the first hearing for a detainee at Guantanamo Bay (search). The administrative hearings are to determine whether the prisoners are being held properly. More are expected this week in a process that is expected to take up to four months.
Human rights lawyers said Monday that the prisoners are not getting a chance to defend themselves.
"These tribunals are a sham," said Jeff Fogel, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (search), which asked a federal court in Washington for an emergency stay. The center represents 53 of the nearly 600 prisoners at Guantanamo. "The so-called personal representatives assigned to them have no legal background and are not advocates."
The military has said the panels — called Combatant Status Review Tribunals (search) — will be neutral and detainees will be freed if found to be wrongly held. The panels were set up shortly after the Supreme Court ruled in June that the detainees have a right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.
On Monday, requests to block the panels were filed on behalf of multiple detainees whose cases are already pending in federal court in Washington.
"These hearings are designed to prevent this court and other district courts from conducting the ... proceedings envisioned by the Supreme Court," Fogel and other attorneys wrote.
Fogel also asked to see the men's medical records. He noted concerns that one detainee, Jamil El Banna, a Jordanian Palestinian refugee, has lost 70 to 80 pounds while being held.
Nearly 600 men from more than 40 countries are being held on suspicion of links to Al Qaeda or the fallen Taliban regime of Afghanistan. Some of them have been at the prison for more than two years, with little or no contact with the outside world.