Guantanamo case attracts unlikely ally

With the U.S. Supreme Court set to take up Guantanamo detention policy again when its new term begins next month, the justices have received some unusual advice from a far-flung, friendly corner of the war-torn Middle East.

Israeli lawyers and military law experts have filed a brief that supports detainees in their quest for the right to have their cases heard in U.S. courts. The Israeli lawyers argue that the Bush administration is making a mistake by trying to prevent the suspected terrorists being held at Guantanamo from filing cases in regular civilian or military U.S. courts.

"The issue here is, having been engulfed with terrorist activities from the beginning, from 1948, we learned a good lesson - if you want to remain a democracy you must be willing to let them have their day in court," says one of the lawyers, Emanuel Gross, a retired Israeli Army colonel and military judge who now teaches law at Haifa University Law School.

The Israelis' brief was among 19 friend-of-the-court petitions filed in the case of Boumediene v. Bush - which is the third Guantanamo case in four years to be heard by the Supreme Court.

The court had at first refused to hear the case, which challenges two acts passed by Congress in recent years that stripped U.S. District Courts of the authority to consider unlawful detention challenges from detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

But then in June the court reversed itself and said it would take the case - a rare reversal that shocked lawyers on both sides of the dispute. In the two other Guantanamo cases that the Supreme Court has heard, the detainees have won.

Nearly two dozen widely diverse interest groups have filed briefs siding with the prisoners, including former senior U.S. diplomats and military officers, Canadian and European lawmakers and lawyers, the federal public defender in South Florida, even Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

They argue not that the men are innocent but that they deserve their day in court.

The deadline to submit briefs was Aug. 24. Now the Bush administration and its supporters have until Oct. 9 to provide their briefs. Arguments are set for December.

The briefs are being written at a time of increasing discussion at the White House and in Congress about what to do with the detention and interrogation center at Guantanamo.

Gone from the Bush administration are the two biggest champions of Guantanamo, Donald Rumsfeld, who's been replaced as secretary of defense by Robert Gates, an advocate of closing the prison camp, and Alberto Gonzales, whose last day as attorney general was Friday. As White House counsel, he once declared the Geneva Conventions that set international standards for treatment of war prisoners as "quaint" in a memo that critics argue enabled abusive practices.