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Attorney access hearing concludes with no ruling

Hamdi, center, was captured in Afghanistan and declared an 'enemy combatant'  

From Laura Bernardini

RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) -- A three-judge federal appeals court Tuesday heard arguments from lawyers on whether U.S.-born terrorism suspect Yaser Esam Hamdi should be allowed to meet with his court-appointed public defender.

The panel did not immediately issue a ruling.

A lower federal court in Norfolk last week rejected the government's arguments that an unmonitored jail cell meeting could represent a national security threat, and ruled the meeting could occur as early as this past weekend.

The Justice Department challenged the ruling and asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond to issue an emergency stay to block the meeting, again citing national security concerns.

In Tuesday's proceeding, the arguments focused on jurisdictional issues more than security concerns. The government's lawyers questioned whether attorney Frank Dunham Jr, assigned by the court in Norfolk, has the legal standing to represent Hamdi, now caught in legal limbo between military and civilian courts.

Hamdi is the only U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan and brought to the United States without civilian criminal charges. Hamdi is held under military authority, having been declared an "enemy combatant."

John Walker Lindh, the other "Taliban American," has been criminally charged in a civilian court.

Dunham hopes to represent Hamdi under the legal status known as "next friend," typically a family member acting on behalf of a relative unable to represent themselves in court. His basis is that Hamdi has been held incommunicado as court proceedings unfold.

The government Tuesday argued that Dunham is not kin to Hamdi, and has never met the man.

Dunham told the panel "next friend does not mean best friend," hoping to counter the government's security concerns about any jailhouse meeting. Hamdi was not in the courtroom, and continues to be held in isolation at a military brig at Naval Station Norfolk.

Dunham, speaking to reporters after the hearing, said his client may be unaware of efforts to defend him.

Hamdi was born in Louisiana but his parents left the United States when he was a small boy.




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