The Champion

January/February 2003 , Page 20 

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An Update: The Right to Counsel, More Important Today

By Anthony Lewis

In the four decades since Gideon v. Wainwright was decided, there has been no moment when the principle of the right to counsel seemed to me as important as it does today. That is because the principle is under profound assault by the government of the United States.  

The Department of Justice, at the direction of Attorney General John Ashcroft, advanced the claim that any American citizen can be indefinitely detained if the President designates him an “enemy combatant.” The detainee cannot challenge that designation in any court, the DOJ says — and may not speak to a lawyer acting for him. 

That astonishing proposition was put forward by government lawyers in the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen who was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and taken, eventually, to a Navy brig in Virginia. The circumstances of his capture — whether he was with the Taliban or al Qaeda forces, for example — are not known as I write this in September, because the g

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