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U.S. judge warns against delay for Guantanamo cases

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge said on Tuesday he would be concerned and suspicious if the Bush administration delayed cases brought by Guantanamo Bay prisoners seeking their release.

In this image reviewed by the U.S. Military, soldiers in a Humvee patrol the perimeter of the Camp Delta detention compound at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba in this file photo from June 6, 2008 REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool

Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan said at a hearing the government needed to understand “that the time has come to move these (cases) forward.”

The hearing took place after last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that allowed prisoners being held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to go before federal judges in Washington to seek their release.

Hogan, named to coordinate the lawsuits, said he was committed to moving the cases forward as quickly as possible.

There are about 265 detainees at Guantanamo, which was set up in 2002 to hold terrorism suspects captured after the September 11 attacks. Most have been held for years without being charged and many have complained of abuse.

The U.S. District Court has pending nearly 250 cases involving more than 643 detainees who have been or are being held at Guantanamo. Several dozen new cases are expected to be filed in the near future.

Hogan said some detainees have yet to get a court hearing after being held for 6-1/2 years.

U.S. Justice Department plans to have up to 50 lawyers working on the cases may not be enough, Hogan said. The department has to understand these cases must be addressed first, before other matters.

Hogan said delays would “reflect badly” on the government and would cause him to become concerned and suspicious. Lawyers for the prisoners have complained the government is not moving as fast as it could.

One lawyer for the prisoners, Shayana Kadidal, told the hearing “speed and fairness” were the most important considerations for the court.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Gregory Katsas asked the judge to allow the government to file new evidence to justify holding the detainees, a process expected to take months.

The initial evidence, filed in 2004, was based on the findings of military tribunals that determined the prisoners were “enemy combatants.”

Hogan expressed concern about allowing the government to file amended information without showing it was necessary.

The judge also said he planned to issue an order by the end of the week setting out various schedules.

Editing by Alan Elsner