Justices sidestep terrorism trials case

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dodged a dispute over the government's plans to conduct military trials for Osama bin Laden's former driver and other foreign terror suspects, avoiding another clash over the president's powers.

Justices were asked to decide if the Bush administration is trying to shortcut the rights of non-Americans facing trials at the Guantanamo Bay Navy base in Cuba. They declined, without comment.

The court's intervention would have been unusual because an appeals court also is considering the issue and has scheduled arguments March 8. Lawyers for Salim Ahmed Hamdan — a Yemeni charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, murder and terrorism — tried to speed things up by bypassing that court and filing the Supreme Court appeal.

The Supreme Court dealt with several terrorism cases last year, and in a landmark decision held that the war on terror did not give the White House a "blank check" to detain people without legal rights.

Special trials
At issue in the latest case was the government's strategy in holding special military trials, in which defendants do not have the same rights as those in regular courts.

A federal court judge had blocked the first trial and told the government to redo the plans to ensure defendants have more rights.

Neal Katyal, one of Hamdan's attorneys, said the case is not just about the hundreds of people at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba who could face trials.

"This case will affect the well-being of Americans and other individuals from around the world who have been or may be captured in armed conflicts," Katyal wrote in a court filing.

Bush administration lawyer Paul Clement, meanwhile, warned that the court could be prematurely making determinations "affecting the exercise of the president's core commander in chief and foreign affairs authority."