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US high court judge said to slam detainee rights

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Mar 26 (Reuters) US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dismissed the idea that Guantanamo prison detainees have constitutional rights and called European concerns over the issue hypocritical, Newsweek magazine reported today.

The comments, which Newsweek said were recorded at private appearance by Scalia in Switzerland on March 8, were made in advance of a Supreme Court hearing scheduled for this week on a legal challenge by a Guantanamo prisoner against US military tribunals.

Newsweek quoted a human-rights lawyer and legal experts as saying the conservative justice's remarks may compromise his credibility in deciding on the case facing the court, but it said Scalia did not refer directly to this week's case.

''War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts,'' Scalia said in the talk at the University of Freiberg, according to Newsweek. ''Give me a break.'' Asked at Freiburg whether detainees at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have protections under international conventions, Scalia replied, ''If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son, and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy.'' Newsweek said it had reviewed a recording of the talk.

The magazine said Scalia's son Matthew served with the US Army in Iraq.

It said Scalia added that he was ''astounded'' at ''hypocritical'' reaction in Europe to the Guantanamo prison.

Lawyers for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, accused of being Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and driver, present oral arguments before the Supreme Court on Tuesday to challenge US President George W Bush's authority to try prisoners before military tribunals.

Chief Justice John Roberts has recused himself from the hearing because he ruled on the case while he was on a federal appeals court. Scalia has previously recused himself from a case -- one involving the Pledge of Allegiance to the US flag -- after making public remarks on it.

The Hamdan case is considered an important test of the administration's policy in the war on terrorism. The tribunals, formally called military commissions, were authorized by Bush after the September 11 attacks and have been criticized by human rights groups as being fundamentally unfair.

There are about 500 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The administration's argument was based on a law signed by Bush on December 30 that limits the ability of Guantanamo prisoners caught in the president's war on terrorism to challenge their detention in federal courts.

REUTERS OM PC2343

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