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Judge may not have detainee jurisdiction

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LOS ANGELES — A federal judge said Tuesday he has "grave doubts" whether he has jurisdiction over more than 100 prisoners captured in Afghanistan and detained by the military in Cuba.

U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz did not rule on a civil rights group's petition demanding the federal government charge the men in a U.S. civilian court. Instead, he gave federal prosecutors until Jan. 31 to file papers calling for dismissal of the petition on jurisdictional grounds and said he will hold another hearing Feb. 14. Federal attorneys said they would file for dismissal of the case.

"This matter has implicit and obvious importance to the public and our system of law that requires we proceed in . . . an efficient matter," Matz said after a 20-minute hearing.

Outside court, attorney Stephen Yagman, a member of the Committee of Clergy, Lawyers and Professors that filed the petition, argued that any federal court has jurisdiction.

It is "un-American" to detain the prisoners in Cuba without spelling out the reasons they are being held, and giving them a chance at a court appearance, he said.

The government has brought 158 prisoners from the U.S. base at Kandahar to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, including 14 who arrived Monday.

The inmates have typically been brought to Cuba in shackles and handcuffs, wearing blacked-out goggles, earmuffs and surgical masks to keep them from biting.

U.S. officials say the restraints are needed because some captives have threatened to kill American guards.

The petition alleges prisoners are being held in violation of the Geneva Conventions and U.S. Constitution, and seeks to guarantee due process and to block any transfer of the detainees from the base.

"These individuals were brought out of their country in shackles, drugged, gagged and blindfolded, and are being held in open-air cages in Cuba," said University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, a coalition member. "Someone should be asserting their rights under international law."

"They are being treated humanely," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted during a Pentagon news conference Tuesday.

"To stop future terrorist attacks we have detained these people and we have and will be questioning them together for additional intelligence information."