WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Friday told a federal judge it would not deviate from the Bush administration’s position that detainees held at a U.S. air base in Afghanistan have no right to sue in U.S. courts.
In one of his first acts in office, President Barack Obama ordered the closure within one year of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, which has been widely criticized by rights groups and foreign governments. About 245 people are currently held at Guantanamo, according to the Pentagon.
However, Obama has not yet decided what to do about the makeshift prison at the U.S. military base in Bagram, where the U.S. government is holding more than 600 prisoners, or whether to continue work on a $60 million prison complex there.
In late January, Obama directed a task force to study the government’s overall detainee policy and report back to him in six months.
But the new administration faced a February 20 deadline to tell U.S. District Court Judge John Bates whether it would “refine” the Bush administration’s position on four men being held at Bagram who have filed suit against their detention.
In a brief filing with the court on Friday, the Justice Department said it would stick to the previous government’s position, which argued the four men — who have been detained at Bagram for over six years — had no right to challenge their detention in a U.S. court.
Barbara Olshansky, lead counsel for three of the four detainees and a visiting professor at Stanford Law School, said she was deeply disappointed that the Obama administration had decided to “adhere to a position that has contributed to making our country a pariah around the world for its flagrant disregard of people’s human rights.”
She said she hoped that the Obama administration was merely signalling it was still working on its position regarding the detainee issue.
The U.S. District Court held a hearing in early January on four separate challenges filed on behalf of four detainees taken to Bagram from outside Afghanistan.
At the hearing, Bush administration lawyers argued that Bagram detainees were different from those held at Guantanamo, and could pose a security threat if released.
After Obama’s executive order indicating changes to the government’s detention policy for Guantanamo, the district court asked the new administration if it wished to change its position on the prisoners at Bagram.
Now that the government has responded, the federal judge is expected to rule in coming weeks on whether his court has jurisdiction to hear the cases.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by Todd Eastham