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Supreme Court Accepts Case Testing Enemy Combatant Detention

The high court agreed to hear an appeal by Yaser Hamdi, whom the government labeled an “enemy combatant” after he was captured during fighting in Afghanistan in November 2001. He is believed to hold both American and Saudi citizenship, according to The New York Times.

The case challenges whether U.S. officials have the power to detain him indefinitely without formal charges in a Navy jail in Charleston, S.C.

Hamdi’s father filed a civil liberties challenge on his son’s behalf, and a lawyer who has never met Hamdi is pressing the case at the Supreme Court.

A U.S. appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled last year that the U.S. government had provided enough evidence to keep Hamdi confined in the military brig. The ruling upheld the president’s power as commander in chief to detain a U.S. citizen found fighting for the enemy abroad.

In appealing the decision, federal public defender Frank Dunham said the constitutional right of due process under the law prohibits Hamdi’s “effectively incommunicado detention” without a hearing and without any charges brought against him.

Hamdi’s case is the second major terror related case the high court has agreed to review. In November the justices agreed to hear appeals by Afghan war detainees challenging their imprisonment at a U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Hamdi, like most of the Guantanamo detainees, was picked up during the U.S.-led military action taken against the Taliban government and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The Pentagon decided last month that Hamdi can meet with his lawyer, after denying him legal counsel for two years.

The acceptance of the Hamdi appeal could indicate that the high court might be willing to review the case of Jose Padilla, another U.S. citizen labeled an “enemy combatant,” who has been held at the same South Carolina facility as Hamdi since June 2002.

Padilla has been held as a suspect in an alleged al-Qaida plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb.”

A New York appeals court ruled in December the administration could not hold a U.S. citizen arrested on American soil indefinitely on suspicion of terrorist-related activity simply because he was labeled an “enemy combatant” and gave the government 30 days to release Padilla.

Lawyers for the Bush administration had urged the high court to deny Hamdi’s appeal, or perhaps delay consideration of it until they file an appeal in the Padilla case.

It’s expected that the Hamdi case will be heard in April with a ruling possible in July.

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