Court: Detainees can't challenge cases
Court: Detainees can't challenge cases
By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 1 minute
WASHINGTON - In a victory for
President Bush, a divided federal appeals court ruled
Tuesday that Guantanamo Bay detainees cannot use the
U.S. court system to challenge their indefinite
imprisonment. A Supreme Court appeal was promised.
The 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
D.C. Circuit dismisses hundreds of cases filed by
foreign-born detainees in federal court and also
threatens to strip away court access to millions of
lawful permanent residents currently in the United
It upholds a key provision of the Military Commissions
Act, which Bush pushed through Congress last year to
set up a Defense Department system to prosecute
terrorism suspects. Now, detainees must prove to
three-officer military panels that they don't pose a
Democrats newly in charge of Congress promised
legislation aimed at giving detainees legal rights.
Attorneys for detainees said they would appeal
Tuesday's ruling to the Supreme Court.
"We're disappointed," said Shayana Kadidal of the
Center for Constitutional Rights. "The bottom line is
that according to two of the federal judges, the
president can do whatever he wants without any legal
limitations as long as he does it offshore."
The two judges voting with the White House Judge A.
Raymond Randolph and Judge David B. Sentelle were
appointed by Republicans. Reagan appointed Sentelle,
and the first President Bush appointed Randolph. The
dissenter, Judge Judith W. Rogers, was appointed by
White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino called
the decision "a significant win" for the
administration and said the Military Commissions Act
provides "sufficient and fair access to courts for
At the Justice Department, attorneys urged Chief
Justice John G. Roberts to deny legal relief to
Guantanamo prisoners. They also said that in the case
of Sharaf al-Sanani, a Yemeni being held at
Guantanamo, the government was no longer obligated to
explain why he was being detained.
About 395 detainees are currently being held at the
U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The
first prisoners arrived more than five years ago,
after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
At issue is the right of habeas corpus, a basic tenet
of the Constitution protecting detainees from unlawful
imprisonment. Twice before, the Supreme Court ruled
that right gave Guantanamo detainees full access to
But in their latest ruling last June, justices
suggested the president could ask Congress for more
anti-terrorism authority, prompting passage of the
commissions act that in part stripped federal court
Randolph, writing for the majority, said the new
commissions act clearly blocked court access and was
constitutional because a "foreign entity without
property or presence in this country has no
"The arguments are creative but not cogent. To accept
them would be to defy the will of Congress," Randolph
wrote in the 25-page opinion, which was joined by
In dissent, Judge Rogers said the cases should
proceed. She argued that the military hearings known
as Combatant Status Review Tribunals, or CSRTs
deprive detainees of critical due process rights
provided by the Constitution by putting the legal
burden on detainees to prove they aren't terrorist
"District courts are well able to adjust these
proceedings in light of the government's significant
interests in guarding national security," Rogers
wrote. "More significant still, continued detention
may be justified by a CSRT on the basis of evidence
resulting from torture."
Under the commissions act, the government may
indefinitely detain foreigners who have been
designated as "enemy combatants" and authorizes the
CIA to use aggressive but undefined interrogation
A spokeswoman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman
Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., said
Leahy had prioritized a bill that would restore
detainees' legal rights, noting that some 12 million
lawful permanent residents currently in the U.S. could
also be stripped of rights.
Leahy was referring to the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah
Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, who was arrested in 2001
as an "enemy combatant" while studying in the United
States. The Justice Department says the commissions
law should apply to immigrants such as him, and the
4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., is
expected to issue a ruling soon.
A provision restoring detainees' rights, introduced by
Leahy and then-Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (news,
bio, voting record), R-Pa., narrowly failed last year
on a 48-51 vote.
"The Military Commissions Act is a dangerous and
misguided law that undercuts our freedoms and assaults
our Constitution by removing vital checks and balances
designed to prevent government overreaching and
lawlessness," Leahy said in a statement.
But Sen. John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record),
R-Texas, who helped draft the new commission law,
heralded the ruling as "respecting the will of
"The detainees held at Guantanamo Bay do not have an
unfettered constitutional right," he said. "In fact,
the legal and humane actions of the U.S. government
stand in stark contrast to our al-Qaeda enemies who
behead those they capture."
Rep. Ike Skelton (news, bio, voting record), D-Mo.,
who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said he
will launch a congressional review to determine
whether military hearings offer detainees legal
protections to which they are entitled.
"The last thing that we would want is to convict an
individual for terrorism and then have that conviction
overturned because of fatal flaws in the military
commissions law passed in the previous Congress,"
Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney at the Brennan Center for
Justice, said the ruling sends the wrong message about
justice to U.S. citizens and the international
community. Ultimately, it will be the Supreme Court
that will have to sort out the legal mess, he said.
"It's a terrible ruling that contradicts centuries of
Anglo-American history and allows the indefinite
detention of innocent people without charge or
judicial review," Hafetz said.
On the Net:
The ruling can be found at:
Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov