“Unchecked power that is, quite frankly, frightening.”

That is a judge’s description, as reported by the NY Times, of Justice Department’s actions in holding an American citizen in military custody in Iraq for 11 weeks without allowing him to talk to an attorney. According to the Times, the detainee refused to talk to F.B.I. interrogators without a lawyer after he was warned of his Miranda rights to remain silent and have a lawyer present,

“The individual stated he understood his rights, and said he was willing to talk to the agents but also stated that since he was in a new phase, he felt he should have an attorney present,” the department said in a court filing Thursday afternoon. “The agents explained that due to his current situation, it was unknown when he would be able to have an attorney, and the individual stated that it was O.K. and that he is a patient man.”

The filing is part of a habeas corpus action filed by the ACLU asking for access to the detainee and a ruling that his continued indefinite detention without charges is illegal. The Justice Department has argued in part that the group has no standing to bring the petition because it has no relationship with the prisoner nor permission from his relatives to represent his interests in court. The judge in the case rejected this argument, saying it was  “circular reasoning” since the government’s own actions prevented him or his relatives from having contact with the lawyers.

The judge then made the comment about frighteningly unchecked power, describing the government’s position as saying it could “snatch any U.S. citizen off the street and hold him as an enemy combatant in another country” indefinitely without letting him or her talk to a lawyer.

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