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'Second American Taliban' to get lawyer

NORFOLK, Virginia (CNN) -- A federal judge Wednesday ruled that Yaser Hamdi, known as the "second American Taliban," is entitled to legal counsel even if confined as an "enemy combatant" and may privately meet with his new lawyer -- with no government eavesdropping -- as early as Saturday.

But government attorneys can appeal the ruling from U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar and possibly prevent or at least delay the meeting if they act before 1 p.m. EDT Saturday. The decision can be appealed to a federal appeals court in Richmond or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Perhaps in this case, [Hamdi's] detention is legal: But it is not for the military alone to make that judgment," Doumar wrote in his court order. "Hamdi must be allowed to meet with his attorney because of fundamental justice provided under the Constitution of the United States."


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The Justice Department had no immediate comment, but a spokesman said the agency is considering whether to appeal.

Hamdi, born in Louisiana of Saudi parents, was among the Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. detention center until it was learned he was an American citizen. He was transferred to a detention facility at the Norfolk U.S. Naval Air Station April 6.

Unlike the case of John Walker Lindh, who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan and was interrogated at length while held incommunicado, U.S. officials have not explained what role Hamdi may have played in that conflict.

Hamdi has not been formally charged with any crime but has been held as an "enemy combatant," a classification the government has used as legal justification for denying him his right to legal counsel -- a premise Doumar dismissed Wednesday as "idiotic."

"As long as they're chasing al Qaeda around the Earth, they could hold him indefinitely" under such criteria, Hamdi's new court-appointed attorney, Frank Dunham, argued.

The judge peppered Gregory Garre from the U.S. solicitor general's office with questions regarding Hamdi's status as a prisoner.

"As far as I know, there's been no declaration of war," Doumar said.

Garre responded, "The individual was detained as an enemy combatant ... in an armed conflict." He said the "enemy combatant" status is "in no way dependent on a declaration of war."

"Assuming he was an enemy combatant, he would not be entitled to counsel?" the judge asked.

"No, he would not be entitled to counsel to challenge his detainment," Garre answered.

"That sounds idiotic," Doumar said.

The judge said Dunham, an associate and an interpreter will be allowed to visit Hamdi in the Norfolk military brig as early as 1 p.m. Saturday without interference from any U.S. government agency and "no listening device of any party."

The government had contended that Attorney General John Ashcroft's policy of allowing monitoring of meetings between foreigners detained in this country as part of the Justice Department's anti-terrorism dragnet and their lawyers applied to Hamdi's case as well.

Doumar rejected that position.

A show-cause hearing is scheduled for June 20, at which time the government is expected to indicate what charges it may file against Hamdi. All motions must be filed by June 13.

-- CNN National Correspondent Bob Franken and Producer Laura Bernardini contributed to this report.




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