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Guantanamo Detainees Face Changing Legal Process

A Senate panel approved a bill Thursday allowing detainees in Guantanamo Bay to challenge their "enemy combatant" status. The NewsHour reports on the details of the current legal process available to detainees.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Next tonight, how many rights should Guantanamo detainees have? NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has that story.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    It's been more than five years since the first group of prisoners captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan was shipped to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hundreds of prisoners later, the Bush administration's attempts to design a process to deal with them still are mired in legal challenges.

    SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), Vermont: We are talking about something that goes to the basic core of what we are as Americans.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The debate has raged within the White House, the Supreme Court, and in Congress, where the central issue remains: Should the detainees have access to the U.S. judicial system? Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for one, says no.

    SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: To those of you who want to turn an enemy combatant into a criminal defendant in U.S. court and give that person the same rights as a U.S. citizen to go into federal court, count me out. Never in the history of law of armed conflict has an enemy combatant, irregular combatant, or a POW been given access to civilian court systems to question military authority and control.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    But just this week, new problems arose for the Bush administration's policy. Military judges threw out war crimes charges against two Guantanamo detainees because the U.S. military had not classified them as, quote, "unlawful enemy combatants." Critics call that a technicality, but Congress last year required that designation before a detainee can be tried.

    Colonel Dwight Sullivan represents one of the detainees.

    COL. DWIGHT SULLIVAN, Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions: Once again, there's a fundamental impediment to the military commission system proceeding. Once again, the military commission system has demonstrated that it's a failure.

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