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Judge Rules Afghan Detainees Can Sue In U.S. Court

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A federal judge has ruled that some prisoners at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan can sue for their release in civilian courts, dealing a blow to the U.S. government's position on the issue.

The Obama administration, following in the footsteps of the previous Bush administration, has argued that the detainees at the Bagram base have no right to have their lawsuit heard in federal court in Washington.

But U.S. District Judge John Bates rejected that argument on April 2 and said three of four detainees who sued the U.S. government can proceed with their bid to win their freedom.

"Bagram detainees who are not Afghan citizens, who were not captured in Afghanistan and who have been held for an unreasonable amount of time -- here over six years -- without adequate process" have the legal right to sue in U.S. court, the judge ruled in a 53-page opinion.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that prisoners at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, which is leased from Cuba, have the right to sue in the American judicial system to seek their release.

It has been unclear whether that ruling would also apply to prisoners held in Afghanistan. There are some 600 detainees in U.S. custody at Bagram and the military is planning to build a $60 million prison complex.

President Barack Obama in January ordered the Guantanamo prison closed within one year. The facility has been widely criticized by rights groups and foreign governments. About 240 prisoners are held there.

U.S. officials have ruled out transferring any Guantanamo prisoners to Bagram.

Barbara Olshansky, an attorney for the Bagram detainees, said: "Judge Bates' opinion stands as a historic marker for the principle that wherever we act as a government around the world, we must be held accountable for our actions."

Bates said his ruling did not affect the detainees' legal challenge of conditions at Bagram.

The judge ruled that three detainees from outside Afghanistan -- Fadi al Maqaleh and Amin al Bakri from Yemen and Redha al-Najar from Tunisia -- could pursue their court challenge seeking release.

Bates reserved judgment on a fourth detainee, Afghan citizen Haji Wazir, and asked for more briefs on the case.