"We did not think that court review at this time was necessary, but we are confident in our legal position," Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the national security council, said after the decision.

Military intervention

The court did not indicate what changed the justices' minds about considering the issue.

"This is a stunning victory for the detainees.
It goes well beyond what we asked for"


Eric M Freedman,
a law professor who has been advising 
Guantanamo detainees
However, last week lawyers for the detainees filed a statement from a military officer in which he described the alternative review process the administration had put forward as inadequate.

Eric M Freedman, professor of constitutional law at the Hofstra law school, who has been advising the detainees, said: "This is a stunning victory for the detainees. It goes well beyond what we asked for, and clearly indicates the unease up there [at the supreme court]".

Five of the nine justices must agree to take a case that previously has been denied a hearing.

Court officials could not find a similar instance in records going back more than 30 years where the justices first denied a petition and later agreed to hear it.

Deprivation of rights

In February, the US circuit court of appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a key provision of a law the Bush administration pushed through congress last year removing federal courts of their ability to hear the detainees' challenges.

On April 2, the supreme court denied the detainees' request to review the February appeals court ruling.

The detainees then petitioned the court to reconsider its denial. Lawyers for the detainees had said dismissing the petitions would be "a profound deprivation" of the prisoners' right to speedy court review.

The detainees' lawyers want the appeals court to allow a broad inquiry questioning the accuracy and completeness of the evidence the tribunals have gathered about the detainees, most of it classified.

Many of the 375 detainees still held at Guantanamo have been there for five years.

The White House is considering closing Guantanamo and transferring some of the most dangerous suspects to military prisons in the United States.