U.S. judge meets lawyers to discuss Guantanamo cases
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. District Court's chief judge said he met on Wednesday with lawyers for Guantanamo Bay prisoners and the Justice Department to go over security and procedural issues in view of a landmark ruling last week that allowed suspects to challenge their detention.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth convened the session following the high court's ruling on Thursday that held the prisoners can go before federal judges to challenge their years-long detention and seek their release.
In a defeat for what President George W. Bush has called a war on terrorism, the justices struck down the law Bush pushed through the Republican-led Congress in 2006 that took away the habeas corpus rights of the terrorism suspects to seek review of their detention by U.S. federal judges.
In the meeting, lawyers for both sides discussed a number of security and procedural issues that are common to many of the nearly 200 cases pending before the court, a spokesman for Lamberth said.
"We had a constructive meeting today and will have a follow-up meeting next Wednesday. I plan to meet soon with the judges of this court to discuss the lawyers' suggestions for how we can move these cases most efficiently and expeditiously," Lamberth said in a statement.
The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba opened in January 2002 after the administration launched what Bush called a war on terrorism in response to the September 11 attacks.
There now are about 270 prisoners at Guantanamo. Most have been held for years without being charged and many have complained of abuse.
Both the Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, have pledged to close the Guantanamo prison, but they have differed sharply about the Supreme Court's ruling that gave the detainees expanded legal rights to seek judicial review of their cases.
Obama strongly praised the ruling, but McCain lambasted it, calling it "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country."
In a separate development, Justice Department lawyers said a U.S. appeals court should put on hold its more limited review of the military's designation of the prisoners as "enemy combatants" while the cases proceed before the federal judges.
More than 190 detainees are seeking review before the appeals court. The Supreme Court ruled that the review was an inadequate substitute for full hearings before federal judges.
Holding the appeals court cases while the other ones move forward would "minimize the disruption to military operations and help avoid the detainee cases from 'swamping' the judicial system," the lawyers said.
(Editing by David Storey and Cynthia Osterman)