Liberals Angered by Obama's Opposition to Judicial Review for Bagram Detainees

President Obama signed three executive orders in January that signaled his intent to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, fulfilling a campaign promise popular with liberals and central to his electoral victory.

But three months into the detainee review, Obama finds himself the unexpected target of fresh criticism from liberals over his handling of what they consider the new Guantanamo Bay: the military detention facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The secretive site is home to 660 detainees, 95 percent of whom were captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. The rest were mostly captured in North Africa and the Middle East.

In an editorial this week, The New York Times claimed Bagram is "the next Guantanamo" and accused the Obama administration of recycling "extravagant claims of executive power."

That's because the Obama White House has sided with the Bush administration in its belief that the Bagram detainees, who are in a war zone, have no right to a court review despite a ruling last year by the Supreme Court granting Guantanamo detainees those rights.

The Justice Department argues that Bagram is different from Guantanamo because it is in an overseas war zone and the prisoners there are being held as part of an ongoing military action. The government argues that releasing enemy combatants into the Afghan war zone, or even diverting U.S. personnel there to consider their legal cases, could threaten security.

But a federal judge rejected that argument earlier this month, ruling that Bagram detainees can challenge their detention. U.S. District Judge John Bates said they should have access to the courts to prevent the United States from being able to "move detainees physically beyond the reach of the Constitution and detain them indefinitely."

The Justice Department is appealing the ruling and said that an interagency task force is working to finish a report by July that outlines the legal options for handling terror suspects in the future.

Surprisingly, Obama finds himself on the opposite side of liberals in the debate over detainee rights.

"If the U.S. is going to close Guantanamo as President Obama has promised, it would be relatively meaningless if new Guantanamos like Bagram are allowed to continue to operate in the future," said Jonathan Hafetz, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has represented several detainees. "It'd be like putting a band-aid on a much deeper wound and problem."

But conservatives believe the war on terror will be reduced to a criminal matter if the ACLU and others get their way.

"What do you do when 500 terrorists who were just shooting at you all of a sudden raise their white flag and say, 'I surrender, I want my lawyer. I want my three hots (meals) and a cot and I want my green card to America,'" said Charles "Cully" Stimson, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.