U.S. Court Dismisses Suit Challenging U.S. Policy of Afghan Detainees But Other Legal Challenges Start

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Monday, April 1, 2002
Bruce Zagaris
On February 21 ,2002, U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz in Los Angeles dismissed a habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of the detainees in the Afghanistan war, but two other legal challenges have been brought and several others are imminent. In Los Angeles Judge Matz ruled that the petitioners did not have standing to assert claims on behalf of the detainees; even if they did have standing, the court lacked jurisdiction; and no federal court would have jurisdiction over petitioners’ claims and hence no basis existed to transfer the matter to another federal court. Most importantly Judge Matz analogized the Guantanamo detainees to the German petitioners charged by the U.S after World War II who unsuccessfully brought a habeas corpus petition in Johnson v. Eisentrager: “they are aliens; they were enemy combatants; they were captured in combat; they were abroad when captured; they are abroad now; since their capture, they have been under the control of only the military; they have not stepped foot on American soil; and there are no legal or judicial precedents entitling them to pursue a writ of habeas corpus in an American civilian court.” In the end the adjudication of the rights of the detainees may be decided by foreign and international tribunals as well as U.S. courts. The proliferation of lawsuits risks conflicting decisions. In the end diplomacy may also an important role especially since the future of counter terrorism efforts depend largely on the ability to fashion an effective international coalition.