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A US judge has ruled that some foreign detainees held without charge at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan have the right to challenge their detention in US courts.

On Thursday, US District Judge John Bates turned down the US motion that sought to deny the right to three Bagram detainees, Fadi al-Maqaleh and Amin al-Bakri of Yemen and Redha al-Najar of Tunisia.

Mr Bates postponed a decision on Afghan national Haji Wazir, saying that releasing him could create ‘practical obstacles, in the form of friction with the host country.’

All four of the men were captured outside Afghanistan, but they have been held at the sprawling airfield for six years or more.

Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge their detention in court, but Washington argues that that judgement did not apply to those in Afghanistan.

Mr Bates rejected the arguments put forth by the Bush and Obama administrations that Bagram was so different legally and practically from Guantanamo Bay that hearings would be disruptive.

He said that the cases were essentially the same and he quoted the Supreme Court ruling repeatedly in his judgement and applied the test created by it to each detainee.

‘Bagram detainees who are not Afghan citizens, who were not captured in Afghanistan and who have been held for an unreasonable amount of time’ may invoke the right to trial, Mr Bates insisted.

Ramzi Kassem, a lawyer for one of the detainees, said: ‘This is a great day for American justice.

‘Today, a US judge ruled that our government cannot simply kidnap people and hold them beyond the law.’

University of Texas law professor Bobby Chesney, who specialises in national security law, hailed the ruling as ‘enormously significant.

‘It will extend some form of federal judicial oversight to a subset of the detainees in Afghanistan, those that are non-Afghans who were captured outside of Afghanistan, but who are, nonetheless, brought by the United States to be held in Afghanistan.’

The Obama administration has not yet said whether it will appeal.

About 650 people are being held at Bagram air base, but most of those were picked up in Afghanistan.

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