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US Enemy Combatants Detained Indefinitely: Ruling

Court Rules U.S. Enemy Combatants Can Be Detained Indefinitely

Says president "unquestionably" has right to detain U.S. citizen Jose Padilla

By Alexandra Abboud
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- A U.S. federal appeals court ruled September 9 that President Bush indefinitely may detain a U.S. citizen captured as part of the global War on Terror who is alleged to have a close association with al-Qaida.

“The exceedingly important question before us is whether the president of the United States possesses the authority to detain militarily a citizen of this country who is closely associated with al-Qaida," appeals court Judge J. Michael Luttig wrote. "We conclude that the president does possess such authority."

The court ruled in the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was designated an “enemy combatant” by President Bush in 2002 because of his alleged activities and association with the al-Qaida terrorist group. “Under the facts as presented here, Padilla unquestionably qualifies as an 'enemy combatant,' " Luttig wrote.

Bush administration officials maintain that enemy combatants may be held legally until hostilities end and that such combatants are not entitled to prisoner-of-war status with the protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions, which deal with the international laws of war.

“The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has reaffirmed the president's critical authority to detain enemy combatants who take up arms on behalf of al-Qaida and travel to the United States to kill innocent Americans,” said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in a September 9 statement. “As the court noted today, the authority to detain enemy combatants like Jose Padilla plays an important role in protecting American citizens ….”

Padilla has been held in a U.S. Navy prison in South Carolina since 2002 without being charged with a crime. The ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a February 2005 lower court ruling that said President Bush did not have the authority to hold Padilla as an enemy combatant. In that case, the judge ruled that unless charged with a crime, Padilla must be set free.

Padilla is one of only two U.S. citizens designated as enemy combatants. The other, Yaser Hamdi, was released by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2004. Padilla and Hamdi petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004.

The Supreme Court in that case -- which included the cases of both Hamdi, Padilla, and a Guántanamo detainee -- concluded that “a state of war is not a blank check for the president" and that enemy combatants should be granted a trial.

However, the Supreme Court’s findings did not apply to the Padilla case because his attorneys originally had filed for appeal in New York, instead of North Carolina, the state that the Supreme Court said had jurisdiction over the case, and the state where Padilla is being held. The most recent ruling is from the appeals courts in South Carolina and Padilla’s attorney has said that Padilla likely will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case.

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