SEATTLE (AP) – If its members can settle their differences, the nation’s largest lawyers’ group is prepared to condemn part of the government’s strategy in the fight against terrorism: its refusal to grant legal rights to people arrested in the United States and held as enemy combatants.

The American Bar Association, at its winter meeting, also will consider this week whether to press for more openness about government surveillance in the United States.

For months, the organization has worked on a resolution critical of the Bush administration’s policy for enemy combatants, and a vote is planned. But last-minute dissension has arisen among ABA members over when lawyers should be provided to combatants held in the United States to help them argue in court that their detentions are illegal.

The government will not release the names of those held as combatants, and only a couple of examples of detentions in America are known widely. The most high profile is Jose Padilla, accused of plotting to detonate a “dirty” bomb, which would use a conventional explosive to spread radioactive material.

Enemy combatants, a type of wartime prisoner, are held without charge or trial and are not allowed to see lawyers.

Miami lawyer Neal Sonnett said it is un-American to deny legal rights to Americans or anyone else in the country when they are apprehended.

“The war against terrorism should not be fought at the expense of the very rights we are fighting to protect,” Sonnett said.

Supporting the government’s policy is David Rivkin Jr., a lawyer from Washington, D.C., who said the administration has foiled crimes with information obtained from combatants. Giving them lawyers would ruin interrogations and threaten the public, Rivkin said.

Sonnett and Rivkin were debating the issue late yesterday at an event jointly sponsored by the ABA and the more conservative Federalist Society.

The ABA’s policy-making board will decide at the Seattle conference whether to take a stand on the treatment of combatants, including standards for their detentions.

Critics of the proposal contend the ABA should clarify that lawyers should be provided to combatants, with restrictions applied so that national security is not compromised.

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