Federal judge adopts new standard for holding Gitmo detainees

A US district court judge in Washington DC April 22 adopted a new standard for authorizing and reviewing the detention of terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay proffered by the Department of Justice last month. The DoJ submitted a memorandum in March asking the court to use a new standard for adjudicating habeas corpus petitions filed by Guantánamo detainees.

Judge Reggie Walton issued a memorandum opinion embracing the government’s standard, which is based on international laws of war defining the president’s authority under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and allows detention only of individuals who substantially support the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Walton concluded:

in addition to the authority conferred upon him by the plain language of the AUMF, the President has the authority to detain persons who were part of, or substantially supported, the Taliban or al-Qaeda forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, provided that the terms ‘substantially supported’ and ‘part of’ are interpreted to encompass only individuals who were members of the enemy organization’s armed forces, as that term is intended under the laws of war, at the time of their capture.

While Walton’s ruling applies only to detainees in his court, other federal judges are considering similar definition changes.

The new standard makes no reference to the “enemy combatant” classification, on which the previous standard was based, and does not rely on the president’s commander-in-chief powers that exist outside the scope of Congressional authorization. Rights advocates had lobbied aggressively for the terminology change, which was effectuated as part of the Obama administration’s general review of US detention policies, put in motion by a series of executive orders issued in late January. (Jurist, April 23)

See our last post on the detainment scandal.

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