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Court denies American Taliban legal counsel

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

RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) -- A federal appeals court in Virginia has given a partial victory to the U.S. government by reversing a lower court judge's ruling that the so-called "Second American Taliban" Yasir Hamdi had a right to an attorney.

Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan and the young Saudi was sent to Guantanamo Bay. But when investigators verified his claim that he was born in Louisiana, he was relocated to the brig at the Norfolk, Virginia, Naval Base, held incommunicado.

A federal district judge in Norfolk, Virginia, ordered that Hamdi be given access to an attorney over U.S. government objections that as an "unlawful enemy combatant" he had no rights to an attorney.

When they appealed, U.S. officials claimed that the courts have no role in the matter, that the president has the absolute right to decide who was an unlawful combatant with no court review permitted.

Findlaw documents, PDF format 
Louisiana Birth Certificate (Yaser Esam Hamdi) 
Opinion: (Hamdi v. Rumsfeld)  
Gov. brief to 4th Circuit (Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, et al.) 

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A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided not to rule on that question, calling the issue "premature." They sent the case back to the lower court instead of dismissing it.

"In dismissing," the judges decided, "we ourselves would be summarily embracing a sweeping proposition ... namely that, with no meaningful judicial review, any American citizen alleged to be an enemy combatant could be detained indefinitely, without charge, on the government's say-so."

That, they said, they were not prepared to conclude. But they did state and restate that the executive branch should be given huge deference in such matters:

" ... any judicial inquiry into Hamdi's status as an alleged enemy combatant must reflect a recognition that government has no more profound responsibility than the protection of Americans, both military and civilian ... Our Constitution's commitment of the conduct of war to the political branches of government require the court's respect at every step."

So the appeals judges imply that the courts may have a role in deciding who is an enemy combatant, but in the Hamdi case there is no reason shown yet to challenge the designation.




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