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Americans Shouldn’t Be Held Without Counsel, Lawyers Say

By Henry Weinstein

The American Bar Association on Monday overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing a Bush administration anti-terrorism policy that bars U.S. citizens jailed in this country as “enemy combatants” from conferring with lawyers.

By a nearly 5 to 1 margin, the ABA’s House of Delegates approved the resolution, which also states that such individuals should be “afforded the opportunity for meaningful judicial review of their status,” subject to the requirements of national security.

So far, only two U.S. citizens have been publicly declared “enemy combatants.”

The Bush administration, which contends that permitting lawyers to consult with such wartime detainees would interfere with efforts to gather intelligence information, sent U.S. Attorney John McKay of Seattle to argue against the measure.

“Importing criminal justice standards to the area of national security is a radical proposition,” McKay said. “The president is charged with protecting national security. ... This question is ultimately about public policy, not the Constitution.”

Miami attorney Neal R. Sonnett, who heads the ABA’s task force on terrorism and took the lead in supporting the resolution, said the 400,000-member organization stands with Bush in the battle “to root out those who would harm our nation. But we can’t lose the Constitution in the process.”

“If someone is designated as an ‘enemy combatant,’ they have to be able to go into court and say: ‘You’ve got the wrong guy,’ ” Sonnett said. “We want the administration to hear from us that there has to be a balance,” so that individual liberties are not violated in the name of protecting national security.

Albert Krieger, who heads the ABA’s criminal justice section, said that if the resolution had failed, “We would be acknowledging there is nothing wrong in creating the disappeared -- not in Argentina, but here in America.”