Campaigners begin legal battle to shut down Camp X-Ray

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The Independent US

The most important legal challenge yet to the detention of more than 500 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay will be launched today by a group of civil rights lawyers, academics and clergymen that believes America is violating its Constitution.

The most important legal challenge yet to the detention of more than 500 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay will be launched today by a group of civil rights lawyers, academics and clergymen that believes America is violating its Constitution.

The group – which includes prominent legal scholars and a former US attorney general – will set its case before a panel of federal judges in Los Angeles, arguing that the government has no right to declare the inmates on Cuba off-limits to civilian courts and the failure to disclose their names is "repugnant to democracy".

Documents placed with the court state: "May the United States government violate its own laws and in no court be held accountable? In holding these individuals indefinitely, without any hearing or any form of due process, the government is violating both the United States Constitution and international law."

The government is holding 564 alleged Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters at the naval base where Camp Delta has been built to house the inmates, seven of them British. Despite a barrage of international criticism, America refuses to recognise the inmates as prisoners of war or grant them the rights enshrined in the Geneva Conventions.

Though they are being regularly interrogated by officials, none of the prisoners has access to lawyers. "We are interrogating the men to extract as much information as possible that might be useful to battlefield troops in south-west Asia or else in the global war against terror," Lieutenant-Colonel Dennis Finks, a spokesman for the interrogation team, said. "There is no time-line."

The case being brought today was rejected by a lower court, which decided Guan-tanamo Bay was technically outside the United States,beyond the court's jurisdiction. It also said the petitioners had no right to bring an action on the prisoners' behalf.

The lawyers say that ruling was "an apologia and a washing of hands for arbitrary, capricious and unlawful action". Not only is Guantanamo Bay a USbase, the brief says, but the men whose decisions are being challenged – including President George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary – are answerable to the US courts.

The lawyer leading the challenge, Stephen Yagman, said he wanted the prisoners to be identified, told why they were being detained and given the chance to speak before a civilian court if they chose.

"We're asking for nothing radical, nothing that anyone could be offended by," he said. "This is truly Orwellian, a circular absurdity. I don't know where this is headed but eventually something is going to have to happen."

Almost six months ago, the first group of prisoners was flown to Cuba from Afghan-istan. Photographs of them arriving in handcuffs, ear-muffs and goggles and being forced to their knees set off an international outcry and a demand for them to be treated under the Geneva Conventions.

America appears uncertain what to do with the prisoners. Mr Rumsfeld has admitted he would rather most of them returned to their own countries to "face justice". None of the prisoners has been charged, though the Bush administration has not excluded the possibility of trying them by military tribunal or of continuing to detain them even if they are acquitted.

Last week, lawyers acting for the seven British prisoners won the right to challenge their detention in the High Court in London. The Court of Appeal agreed to a full hearing this year when judges will scrutinise UK foreign policy over detention of the seven.

Yesterday a spokesman for the British embassy in Washington said: "Whether they are returned [to Britain] is a matter for the detaining authority. Our preference is for them to be prosecuted in the UK if that is the most effective way of bringing them to justice."

Al-Qa?ida will strike US targets in America and around the world soon, a spokesman for the terrorist network said in an interview published yesterday.

"Our military and intelligence networks are assessing and monitoring new US targets that we will strike in a period of time which is not long," Sulaiman Abu Ghaith told the Algerian newspaper Al-Youm, in reply to e-mailed questions.

"America knows we are men of action and not men of words," he went on, saying that attacks were also being planned against the Afghan "puppet government".

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