US court allows Guantánamo Bay challenge

by Demetri Sevastopulo

US court allows Guantánamo Bay challenge
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Published: January 31 2005 21:29 | Last updated: January 31 2005 21:29

The Bush administration suffered a serious blow on Monday when a court ruled that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay can challenge their detention in court, and that the military tribunals used to determine the status of prisoners are unconstitutional.

After the Supreme Court last year ruled that terrorism suspects held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had the right to challenge their detention in US courts, several groups of detainees filed petitions.

The government, however, challenged the petitions, saying the Supreme Court decision did not give prisoners rights under the constitution only the right to file a petition challenging their detention.

But Judge Joyce Hens Green, of the DC district court, on Monday rejected that argument, concluding that the prisoners at Guantánamo should be given US constitutional rights. “There can be no question that . . . the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law is one of the most fundamental rights of the US constitution,” she wrote.

“It is clear that Guantánamo Bay must be considered the equivalent of a US territory in which fundamental constitutional rights apply.”

But while the decision is a blow to the government, Judge Green's interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling differs from that of another DC district court judge, Richard Leon, who concluded that prisoners had the right to file a case, but no right to be heard.

Both cases will now almost certainly proceed to a higher court.

Last year's Supreme Court ruling also concluded that the government could not hold Guantánamo detainees indefinitely unless their status as “enemy combatants” which would receive no protections under the Geneva conventions was established.

Soon afterwards the Pentagon created Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT), which recently completed reviews for the prisoners at the detention facility. But in a strong criticism of the tribunals, Judge Green concluded that they too were unconstitutional.

She said the CSRT were unlawful because detainees were not given access to classified information on which their status as “enemy combatants” were based, or access to lawyers who could help compensate for their lack of access to the evidence.

“Judge Green cited several instances where she said detainees were unable to defend themselves at their tribunals because the government would not reveal the evidence on which they were being held.

“The CSRT failed to provide any detainee with sufficient notice of the factual basis for which he is being detained and with a fair opportunity to rebutt the government's evidence that he is an ‘enemy combatant'.”

Judge Green also criticised the tribunals, saying the definition of “enemy combatant” was too vague. And she said the review panel had not given enough credence to claims by prisoners that they hadbeen tortured into confessing.