High Court Won't Rush Gitmo Case

Guard tower at Camp X-ray for Taliban and al-Qaida detainees, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 2002
The Supreme Court refused Monday to speed up consideration of a challenge to the government's plans to try foreign terror suspects before military tribunals.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was a driver for Osama bin Laden, won his appeal in U.S. District Court. His lawyers want to skip an appeals court and have the Supreme Court decide the legality of the trials planned for Hamdan and potentially hundreds of others classified as "enemy combatants" who are being held at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba.

The Bush administration told the court there was no legal reason to deal more quickly with Hamdan's appeal, and that justices should let the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit handle the matter first. It has scheduled arguments on March 8.

Hamdan, 34, has denied supporting terrorism. But the government contends he was a member of al Qaeda and has charged him with conspiracy to commit war crimes, murder and terrorism.

The Bush administration has been criticized by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union for its plans for military commission trials. People tried before the commissions would not have the same legal rights as defendants in regular courts.

"Our country has a pressing need to know that those implicated in that war (on terrorism) are being treated in the way the Constitution, our statutes, and the laws of war demand," Washington attorney Neal Katyal wrote in the appeal for Hamdan.

Monday's action by the court does not dismiss the appeal. Justices could still agree to hear the case, but they won't decide until early next year — potentially too late to hold arguments and issue a ruling before the end of the term in late June.

Last week, hundreds of members of the British and European Parliaments encouraged the court to hear the appeal.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson in Washington sided last month with Hamdan and said before anyone goes before a tribunal the government must first determine whether the suspects are prisoners of war entitled to more legal rights. He also said that the guidelines for the trials must be changed to comply with military justice rules.

In other decisions on Monday, the Supreme Court:

  • Heard arguments in a case that asks whether a black man was unfairly sentenced to death by a Texas jury stacked with whites.
  • Passed up a chance to consider if states can ban members of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups from wearing masks at public gatherings.
  • Ruled that San Diego officials were justified in firing a policeman who sold sexually explicit videotapes of himself in uniform.
  • Rejected an appeal by the National League of Cities that sought to classify cable-based broadband as a "cable service." That would have entitled cities to charge cable operators a 5 percent local tax.
  • Declined to clarify standards for suing employers who rescind health benefits they initially promised in early retirement packages.
  • Refused to consider whether a state may bar corrections employees from socializing with prisoners and their families outside of work.