High court upholds Gitmo detainees’ habeas corpus rights

A statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights, June 12:

Supreme Court: Guantánamo Detainees Have Constitutional Right to Habeas Corpus

Washington, DC — In one of the most important human rights cases of the decade, the Supreme Court of the United States held today, in a 5-4 decision, that the men imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay have the constitutional right to habeas corpus.

One of the oldest and most basic legal protections, habeas corpus affords the incarcerated the right to stand before a judge and confront the charges presented against him or her. The Center for Constitutional Rights has been sending habeas counsel to represent the prisoners at the base since winning the first Guantánamo case, Rasul v. Bush, in 2004, and applauds today’s decision.

“The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices,” said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. “By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding. With habeas you never would have had these men – so many of whom have been cleared of any wrongdoing – locked up and abused because no court was watching. In those cases, the government will now have to put up or shut up: it will have to show an impartial judge enough evidence to justify detention. This six-year-long nightmare serves as a lesson in how fragile our constitutional protections truly are in the hands of an overzealous executive.”

In his majority opinion, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “Within the constitution’s separation-of-powers structure, few exercises of judicial power are as legitimate or as necessary as the responsibility to hear challenges to the authority of the Executive to imprison a person. … Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law.”

Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court rejected the argument that Guantánamo lies outside the reach of the federal courts because it is not within the 50 states, stating that, “[i]n every practical sense, Guantánamo is not abroad…. questions of extraterritoriality turn on objective factors and practical concerns, not formalism.”

“Justice Kennedy is known as a pragmatic justice, and this is a pragmatic opinion. It will allow courts to do what they do best: sort out the evidence to decide whether these men are being lawfully held,” said Shayana Kadidal, managing attorney of CCR’s Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative. “It marks a return to orderly legal process at Guantánamo. It is now imperative that the lower courts move with speed in adjudicating these cases.”

Today’s decision marks the third time the Court has rebuked the administration’s lawless actions at Guantánamo. The government has repeatedly delayed in applying previous rulings, and this decision shows that the judiciary will not just lie down while the administration further harms the health and sanity of its prisoners.

“This ruling shows that, just as the Framers intended, the judiciary has the responsibility to hold the executive accountable,” said CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez, who represents numerous Guantánamo prisoners, including former U.S. resident Majid Khan. “It makes sure the government has the right people in detention and eliminates the temptation to engage in lawless abuses because no court is watching.”

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for the last six years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee.” CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantánamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation.

“This decision ensures that the executive does not falsely claim credit for detaining and incapacitating terrorists, when in many documented cases they have just swept up innocent men and hidden them from scrutiny,” said CCR President Michael Ratner. “It rightfully discourages Congress and the President from establishing deceptive, extra-legal proceedings in times of crisis and confirms our qualms about inventing extralegal and inhumane processes to detain human beings – no matter who they are or where they come from.”

The case decided today is Boumediene v. Bush.

See our last posts on the detainment scandal.