High court rebuffsterror case appeal

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who for a time worked as Osama bin Laden's driver, is seen in an undated photo.
Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who for a time worked as Osama bin Laden's driver, is seen in an undated photo. AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Supreme Court refused Monday to speed up consideration of an unusual appeal that challenges the government’s plans for military trials for foreign terror suspects.

The ruling was a victory for the Bush administration, which wants an appeal by Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was a driver for Osama bin Laden, to be decided by a federal appeals court before a possible appeal to the nation’s highest court.

Attorneys for Hamdan, who already has won a ruling in federal court, wanted to skip the appeals court and have the Supreme Court rule on the legality of trials planned for Hamdan and others.

Bush administration sees no urgency
The Bush administration told the court that there was no need to deal quickly with Hamdan’s appeal, and that justices should let the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit handle the matter first.

Hamdan, 34, is being held at a military prison in Cuba with hundreds of other foreign detainees. He has denied supporting terrorism. But the government contends he was a member of al-Qaida and has charged him with conspiracy to commit war crimes, murder and terrorism.

The Bush administration has been criticized for its plans for military commission trials, resurrected from World War II, at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

People tried before the commissions would not have the same legal rights as defendants in regular courts.

“Our country has a pressing need to know that those implicated in that war (on terrorism) are being treated in the way the Constitution, our statutes, and the laws of war demand,” Washington attorney Neal Katyal wrote in the appeal for Hamdan.

A judge in Washington, U.S. District Judge James Robertson, sided with Hamdan and said the government must first determine that the suspects are not prisoners of war and entitled to more legal rights. He also ruled that the guidelines for the trials must be changed.

The case is Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 04-702.

Other action
In other action Monday, the court:

  • Passed up a chance to consider if states can ban members of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups from wearing masks at public gatherings.

Justices without comment rejected an appeal from an offshoot of the KKK whose members wear white robes, hoods and masks.

The Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan had challenged as unconstitutional a New York law that allows loitering charges against someone who is “masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration.”

  • Declined to clarify standards for suing employers who rescind health benefits they initially promised in early retirement packages.

At issue was whether CNA Financial Corp. could be held liable for not fully revealing that the benefits could be eliminated. Several federal courts have ruled yes, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said only if the employer deliberately intended to deceive workers.

The high court’s move leaves lower courts split on the issue.

  • Ruled that San Diego officials were right to fire a San Diego policeman who sold sexually explicit videotapes of himself in uniform.

The unsigned, unanimous opinion reversed a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in favor of the officer, who sued under the alias John Roe and claimed his free speech rights were violated.

At issue was the scope of the First Amendment, which protects government workers from discharge if their conduct involves a “public concern” rather than personal, job-related issues such as salary or promotions.