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Kuwaiti Prisoners Mount Challenge to Detention

The Los Angeles Times today reports that Kuwaiti detainees at Guanamo Bay are the first to mount an organized challenge to their detention. They are backed by the Government of Kuwait, an ally of the U.S.

"A dozen Kuwaiti captives have mounted the first organized legal and diplomatic effort by prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay to challenge U.S. policy that holds terrorism suspects indefinitely without court hearings or charges being filed against them."

"The men assert they are not members of Al-Qaeda, and are merely "charity workers who were assisting refugees of Afghanistan's harsh regime when they were caught up in the chaos of the war last fall and winter. In attempting to flee across the Pakistani border, they say, they fell into the hands of Pakistanis who "sold" them to U.S. troops, collecting a bounty that American forces were offering for Arab terrorism suspects captured in the region."

The men have been at Guantanamo for a year. No charges have been filed against them. The Government claims they are enemy combatants and not entitled to legal protections.

We remember a year ago when the Government told us that all the Guantanamo inmates were "front-line Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters, 'the hardest of the hard.' "

Later the Government admitted it had not identified any high-level terrorists among them. "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last spring it is possible that some were "victims of circumstances and probably innocent.... If we find someone's an innocent and shouldn't have been brought there, they would be released."

The Kuwaitis are still here. "They are teachers, engineers and students, according to leave-of-absence documents signed by their employers approving their charitable work. One is a government auditor; another works as a government agriculturist. Some have been fired from their jobs since their capture. Some knew one another before they arrived at Guantanamo."

Their lawsuit is backed by high Kuwaiti officials and has been brought by Shearman & Sterling, a Washington law firm specializing in international law. The prisoners are asking to meet with their families, to be notified of the charges against them, to confer with lawyers and for access to a court or other impartial tribunal.

The Kuwaiti Ambassador has said nine of the twelve have no ties to terrorism. "The Kuwaiti government isn't saying all of the men are innocent, but it simply wants the United States to evaluate its countrymen. "Let them be put on trial," Ambassador Sabah said. "If they are innocent, let them go. If they are guilty, we will deal with that. Nothing will solve this issue until they are given due process."

That is unlikely to happen any time soon as the U.S. insists that the men are enemy combatants who may be kept without charges, trials or even military tribunal proceedings until the "war" is over.

The Kuwaitis' lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge but an appeal is pending in the D.C. Court of Appeals. Oral argument is scheduled for December 2.

There is much more in this compelling article about the detainees themselves, we recommend reading the whole thing. The LA Times requires free registration.

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