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Lawyers plan defense strategy for terror suspects

Clients and attorneys optimistic after Supreme Court decisions


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(CNN) -- Lawyers for two Americans being held by the United States as terror suspects sounded an upbeat tone following meetings this week with their clients.

"We're in great shape," said attorney Donna Newman after meeting Thursday with Jose Padilla.

The meetings between Padilla and fellow U.S. citizen Yaser Esam Hamdi and their lawyers at the U.S. naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina, came three days after the Supreme Court ruled that terrorism suspects have the right to challenge their detention in the U.S. courts.

The high court ruled Monday that the president has the right to designate U.S. citizens as "enemy combatants" and subject them to military imprisonment, but that the prisoners are entitled to challenge the evidence behind their detention in a hearing "before a neutral decision maker."

The high court's decisions granted the right of due process the Bush administration has denied defendants labeled as enemy combatants. (The rulings)

By designating a suspect an enemy combatant -- which suspects may now challenge -- the U.S. government can hold a person indefinitely without bringing charges and holding a trial, and can restrict access to attorneys.

"We are digesting those opinions in terms of making sure that we do so to accommodate the requirements as expressed by the Supreme Court," said U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft earlier this week during a meeting with counterterrorism officials in Miami.

"In virtually every case, we make an assessment of how do we protect the people of the United States best," Ashcroft said. "It may be there are persons who are both enemy combatants and susceptible to criminal prosecution."

Padilla was born in New York and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He is accused of -- but not yet charged with -- plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States.

Padilla's attorneys met with their client for an hour and a half. Newman described her client's reaction to the Supreme Court decisions as "very positive." He had received copies of the opinions on Wednesday.

It was the first of three attorney-client visits with Padilla this year in which military monitors were not eavesdropping on their conversations. A video camera, however, did record pictures of the meeting at the naval brig in Charleston.

On Thursday, Geremy Kamens, an assistant federal public defender, told a Charleston TV station that he met with the 23-year-old Hamdi to discuss the case.

Hamdi was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan in November, 2001, and accused of fighting with the Taliban.

"The allegation was that he was affiliated with a Taliban unit and that he was in Afghanistan to fight against the United States, and there's a substantial difference between what they say and what we believe will be shown in the district court," Kamens said.

Kamens' visit with Hamdi was the defendant's fourth visit with an attorney this year.

Hamdi had been having difficulty with his prolonged detention, Kamens said.

Hamdi's lawyers are awaiting word from either the U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, or the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to schedule a detention review hearing ordered by the Supreme Court.

"We might be able to go back into court and prevent him from being held for the rest of his life," Kamens said.


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