updated 4/22/2009 9:06:41 PM ET 2009-04-23T01:06:41

A federal judge has signaled he will move quickly to decide whether terrorism suspects can continue to be held at Guantanamo Bay under a new Obama rule.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton has given attorneys for the detainees 12 days to file arguments for why he should grant an expedited judgment for their release under the new standard. That standard, announced last month by the Obama administration, said prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Cuba can only be detained if they substantially supported al-Qaida, the Taliban or other associated forces.

President Barack Obama has said he plans to close the detention facility within a year and determine where to place the 240 people held there. But federal judges have ordered a few releases in recent months.

No longer enemy combatants
Obama's Justice Department backed President George W. Bush's stance that the president has the authority to hold the detainees and gave a similar legal standard for doing so. But Obama's administration said it would no longer define the detainees as enemy combatants, the term that Bush used to justify their detention.

The Bush administration argued the government could hold "those individuals who were part of, or supporting, forces engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners and allies." The Obama administration modified that argument to say prisoners can only be detained if their support for al-Qaida, the Taliban or "associated forces" was "substantial."

Walton was critical of the Obama administration for refusing to define what "substantial support" means and added his own interpretation. He said he'll interpret the standard only to include people who were members of the enemy organization's armed forces at the time of their capture.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd would only say Wednesday night that the department is reviewing the ruling.

'Decision is problematic'
In their lawsuits, detainees have argued that only those who directly participated in hostilities should be held.

Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling is significant since it attempts to set a legal standard for holding the detainees. But he disagrees with the judge's interpretation.

"The decision is problematic in that it continues the misguided effort to treat terrorism as a military rather than a criminal matter and perpetuates a system of indefinite detention without charge that has no foundation in law," Hafetz said.

Still, Hafetz predicted some detainees may not meet the new standard and could be released.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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