Wednesday, January 23, 2002
Judge Voices Doubt Over Jurisdiction in Guantanamo Detainee Case
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A federal judge yesterday said he had “grave doubts” about whether he has jurisdiction to order U.S. officials to release details about more than 100 people captured in Afghanistan and held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
But U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz ordered the government to show cause why he lacks authority to grant the writ of habeas corpus that 15 law professors, civil rights lawyers, former journalists and rabbis and ministers filed over the weekend.
Matz set a Feb. 14 hearing on the issue.
The activists allege that the prisoners are being held in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Convention since they have no access to attorneys and have not been informed of the charges against them. U.S. officials say many of the detainees are linked to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They may be tried by U.S. military tribunals.
Venice lawyer Stephen Yagman, the lead attorney for the petitioners, said he was pleased the case was assigned to Matz and was not worried that the judge expressed initial doubt over his jurisdiction.
“This is an exceptionally conscientious judge,” Yagman said. “His off-the-cuff remarks before issues have been briefed are not things about which anyone should be concerned.”
Yagman filed the petition Sunday, delivering it to the home of U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi because, he explained, that was the only federal judge whose home address he knew. The case was randomly assigned later that day to Matz, who happened to be working in the courthouse.
Central to the petitioners’ claim is the status of the prisoners. U.S. officials have designated them “unlawful combatants,” meaning they lack the rights accorded prisoners of war or criminal suspects held within the nation’s borders.
Guantanamo is a small section of leased U.S. military land in the nation of Cuba.
At issue is whether federal courts have the power to make rulings concerning unlawful combatants held outside of the U.S., whether the Central District of California is the proper place to make a habeas corpus claim when none of the prisoners are here, and whether the petitioners have any standing to seek a writ on behalf of the detainees.
At a 20-minute hearing yesterday morning at the federal courthouse on Spring Street, Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Axel told Matz the action should be summarily dismissed.
But Matz issued a four-page order to show cause why he should not find jurisdiction and gave the U.S. Attorney’s Office until Jan. 31 to file papers. He gave Yagman until Feb. 8 to respond.
Yagman asked that Matz issue an immediate order barring the transfer of the prisoners pending a decision on the jurisdiction question.
But the judge rejected the request, saying he had “grave doubts about whether I have jurisdiction.”
USC law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the petitioners, told the MetNews that Yagman took the lead in calling together the coalition last week.
The group includes former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Also included are two USC journalism professors, Robert A. Berger and Kenneth B. Noble, three Los Angeles rabbis, an Episcopal priest, Mercer University law professor Harold S. Lewis Jr. of Macon, Ga., New York civil rights lawyer Lawrence Schilling, law partners Hugh Manes and Carol Watson of Los Angeles, and four attorneys from Yagman’s office—Yagman, Marion Yagman, Joseph Reichmann, and Kathryn Bloomfield.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company