Court: tribunals fail constitutional test

Jan. 31, 2005 at 5:16 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The military tribunals that review the status of foreign prisoners are unconstitutional, a court decided Monday, setting up a possible Supreme Court showdown.

The federal district court also decided that unless Taliban fighters have been specifically found not to merit prisoner of war status by a special panel convened as described by the Geneva Conventions, such people must be afforded prisoner of war status by the United States because Afghanistan is a party to the treaty.

The findings were part of an order denying the government's request to dismiss habeas corpus cases filed by 11 foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The cases will go forward and, if they are successful -- as Monday's decision suggests they will be -- they could result in the prisoners being freed, legal experts said.

There are several steps between that outcome and Monday's court decision -- for one, the government is likely to appeal the case. But observers say the judge's decision is a clear indication the court believes the Pentagon's attempts to satisfy the guarantee of due process under the U.S. Constitution have failed.

"I think this case will inevitably wind up at the Supreme Court," said National Institute for Military Justice President Eugene Fidell.

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