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July 18, 2012

Detainees seek to invoke U.S. Constitution

Detainees held at Bagram Air Field have no right to invoke habeus corpus. (UPI/Mohammad Kheirkhah)

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Prisoners being held at a U.S. air base in Afghanistan shouldn't be able to invoke the Constitution to challenge indefinite detention, U.S. attorneys argued.

The Obama administration attorneys argued the foreign-born detainees held at Bagram Air Field do not have the habeas corpus rights afforded by the Constitution, McClatchy Newspapers reported.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled those held at an American naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, do have the habeas corpus rights. A habeas corpus petition forces the government to provide justification for an individual's detention.

Among the 3,200 prisoners reportedly being held at Bagram, about 50 aren't natives of Afghanistan. Under a March 2012 memorandum of understanding between the United States and Afghanistan, Bagram detainees who are natives of Afghanistan are to be transferred to Afghan control but non-natives are to stay under U.S. Control.

"We want to prevent enemy fighters from returning to the battlefield," Justice Department attorney Jean Lin told a federal judge, adding that "the United States does not intend to hold anyone longer than necessary."

In April 2009, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled non-Afghan natives seized outside Afghanistan and taken to Bagram could challenge their detention through a habeas corpus petition. But an appellate court found in 2010 the constitutional protections did not cover the Bagram detainees.

The 2010 decision noted Bagram is "exposed to the vagaries of war" because it's in an active war zone and the possibility of trial could interfere with fighting the war.

But detainees' attorneys say subsequent experience with trials for Afghan prisoners has shown the judicial system can function during military action in Afghanistan.

Bates has called on the Justice Department to look into whether changing circumstances, including a slowdown in fighting and the coming withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Afghanistan, might justify revisiting the decision.

Attorneys for three non-Afghan citizen at Bagram say a U.S. military detainee review board has cleared all three for potential release.

But Lin said the board's review is "entirely irrelevant" on the matter of whether a U.S. Court has habeas corpus jurisdiction over the foreign prisoners.

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