US Supreme Court to consider Guantanamo detainee rights

The US Supreme Court is to take up Wednesday the issue of whether detainees at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have the right to challenge their detention in civilian courts.

US Supreme Court to consider Guantanamo detainee rights
The US high court has already taken up the issue of Guantanamo inmates twice before, but this will mark the first time the nine justices will focus on whether the constitution limits executive power over the detainees.

It is "the most important case of the decade," according to the Center for Constitution Rights, which is coordinating the defence for Guantanamo detainees, most of whom have spent nearly six years in custody without charge.

Prisoners have asked since 2002 to be able to contest their indefinite detention before an independent judge, a legal process known as habeas corpus.

The Supreme Court considered the matter in 2004 and again in 2006, and both times said detainees had a statutory (legal but not constitutional) right to habeas corpus.

But last year Congress passed new legislation that forbid detainees from seeking justice in a federal court until they are judged by a special military tribunal.

The US Constitution only authorizes a suspension of habeas corpus rights in circumstances of a rebellion or an invasion, but a federal appeals court in Washington ruled in February that the Constitution does not guarantee the rights of Guantanamo detainees as they are foreigners being held abroad.

Detainee lawyers say that the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which officially belongs to Cuba but is controlled by the United States, should be considered US territory.

The government has rejected this idea, and warned that if the court authorizes Guantanamo detainees to seek a hearing with a federal judge, nothing would prevent prisoners of the US military in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere from demanding the same rights.

Justices have indicated that a significant part of their deliberations will centre on so-called combatant status review tribunals (CSRTs), which have labelled hundreds of suspects at Guantanamo as "enemy combatants."

The government says CSRTs provide the day in court the detainees are asking for, but the detainees' defence lawyers say they are meaningless, especially since some detainees deemed no longer to be enemy combatants remain languishing there years later while other official enemy combatants have been released.

"Everybody loses under the current system, because you have innocent men who were taken and had no opportunity to present their case," said lawyer David Cynamon who represent four Kuwaitis being held at Guantanamo.

"And then you have ... potentially dangerous people being released because the system is entirely arbitrary and it's governed more by which foreign government is more effective in putting pressure on the administration."

More than 800 adult men and adolescents have been held at Guantanamo, and around 305 remain. The government says 70 are to be repatriated and 60 to 80 are to appear before a special military tribunal.

The Supreme Court's decision, though it is to affect all Guantanamo detainees, will be especially important for the 150 or so who have been neither charged nor released.

The decision conservative-dominated court is expected by the end of June.

Although President George W. Bush has often indicated his desire to close down the detention facility, arguments in favour of the detainees are multiplying from rights groups, legal experts, former judges, historians and military experts.

"To the outside world it boils down to the simple, but crucial, question of whether the system of legal norms that purports to restrain the conduct of States vis-Ó-vis individuals within their power will survive the terrorist threat," said an amicus curiae brief of 383 European parliamentarians.

If the high court allows detainees to seek a hearing with a federal judge, it will also open the door for legal action to question the lawfulness of the new special military tribunals, which were struck down in June 2006 by the Supreme Court but reinstated in the fall by Congress.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni alleged to have been Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's driver, has already a new case on the way. In the meantime, he is to face on Wednesday a preliminary hearing before a military commission in Guantanamo, where he faces charges of conspiracy and support for terrorism.


Agencies

Güncelleme Tarihi: 02 Aralık 2007, 19:12
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