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Terror detainees win right to sue

In two landmark cases, the court rules against President Bush, saying 'enemy combatants' should have access to US courts.

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President Bush acted beyond his constitutional authority as commander in chief when he ordered the indefinite detention of "enemy combatants" seized on a foreign battlefield without giving them access to US courts.

In a day of landmark decisions at the US Supreme Court dealing with the war on terror, the justices ruled that so-called enemy combatants are entitled to access to US courts whether they are being held in a military brig within the US or at a terrorism prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The rulings amount to a major setback for President Bush and his legal advisers, who have sought to promote a more robust application of the president's powers as commander in chief in response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11.

In a third potential landmark case, the nation's highest court declined on jurisdictional grounds to determine whether the same principles should apply to the open-ended jailing of American citizens who are seized on US soil as enemy combatants.

In the two major decisions handed down Monday, the high court invalidated two highly controversial tactics being deployed by the Bush administration in the war on terror - the indefinite detention of US-born Yaser Hamdi with only limited access to the courts, and the continued holding of hundreds of detainees at a terrorism prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with no access to US courts.

"We reaffirm today the fundamental nature of a citizen's right to be free from involuntary confinement by his own government without due process of law," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor writes for the majority in Mr. Hamdi's case. "A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

In the Guantánamo Bay detainee cases, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority that foreign nationals being held by the military overseas but within US jurisdiction must be given access to US federal courts.

Nothing in US law "excludes aliens detained in military custody outside the United States from the privilege of litigation in US courts," Justice Stevens says.

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