WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court turned away an appeal Monday over detention of hundreds of U.S. prisoners picked up in Afghanistan (search) after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The court did not comment in rejecting an appeal from clergy, lawyers and others who wanted to go to court on behalf of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (search), without charges or access to lawyers.
Lower federal courts had blocked the legal challenge on grounds that the clergy group did not have legal standing.
The clergy group sued President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others last year.
"The United States government violated basic principles of international human rights law in forcibly removing prisoners of war from Afghanistan, transporting them to Guantanamo, and holding them indefinitely in small outdoor cages," the clergy group alleged.
The suit claimed the prisoners were deprived of their liberty and have not been informed of the accusations against them, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The coalition demanded that the government provide the prisoners with lawyers, bring them before a U.S. court, acknowledge their identities and define the charges against them. The detainees are from some 36 countries.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) declined to address the merits of those complaints.
To have standing to represent the detainees in court, the San Francisco-based federal appeals court said, the coalition would need to have had a preexisting relationship with the detainees or prove that the prisoners had mental defects.
The court declined to rule on whether individual prisoners could bring cases.
The government says federal courts have no power over U.S. military policy carried out in a foreign nation as part of the nation's war on terrorism.
The detainees began arriving at the U.S. naval base in Cuba in January 2002. As of this month, about 645 prisoners from more than three dozen countries were held there. The government refuses to identify them or their countries or say exactly how many there are.
Several prisoners have been freed, and American officials say they are moving quickly to sort out the remaining cases. Eventually, some prisoners may be tried for terrorism activities before military tribunals.
The United States has long said that some prisoners could be released to their countries if it were certain their governments would deal with them properly.
The case is Coalition of clergy, Lawyers and Professors v. Bush, 02-1155.