Rights of Gitmo Prisoners Upheld; 'No Question' on Right to Due Process

Article excerpt


A federal judge in Washington ruled yesterday that some suspected terrorists detained as "enemy combatants" at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have constitutionally guaranteed rights to challenge their confinement in U.S. courts.

U.S. District Senior Judge Joyce Hens Green said there was "no question" the rights asserted by 54 Guantanamo detainees in a case pending in her court were among "the most fundamental rights recognized by the U.S. Constitution," and that they had the right to due process.

The ruling rejected an appeal by the Bush administration to dismiss lawsuits brought by the 54 detainees, who had challenged their continued confinement, and sets the stage for additional legal fights over the rights of suspected terrorists. The Justice Department already said it will appeal the ruling.

"Of course it would be far easier for the government to prosecute the war on terrorism if it could imprison all suspected 'enemy combatants' at Guantanamo Bay without having to acknowledge and respect any constitutional rights of detainees," said Judge Green, who was appointed to the bench in 1979 by President Carter.

"Although this nation unquestionably must take strong action under the leadership of the commander in chief to protect itself against enormous and unprecedented threats, that necessity cannot negate the existence of the most basic fundamental rights for which the people of this country have fought and died for well over 200 years," she said in the 75-page opinion.

Judge Green also questioned the procedures implemented by the government to confirm that those detained were enemy combatants.

"Although detainees at Guantanamo Bay not subject to prosecutions could suffer the same fate as those convicted of war crimes - potentially life in prison, depending on how long America's war on terrorism lasts - they were not given any significant procedural rights to challenge their status as alleged enemy combatants," Judge Green said.

The judge, who came out of retirement to consider the merits of several pending lawsuits on behalf of Guantanamo detainees, noted that from the beginning of 2002 through at least June 2004, the majority of those being held but not charged had not been informed of the basis on which they had been detained, were not permitted access to counsel, were not given an opportunity to challenge their enemy combatant status and were held incommunicado.

Her ruling is in conflict with an opinion issued Jan. 19 by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, also in Washington, who threw out similar lawsuits by Guantanamo detainees challenging their continued detention, ruling that Congress had authorized President Bush to order the detention of enemy combatants for the duration of the war on terror.

"The petitioners are asking this court to do something no federal court has done before: evaluate the legality of the (president's) capture and detention of nonresident aliens, outside the United States, during a time of armed conflict," Judge Leon said. "In the final analysis, the court's role in reviewing the military's decision to capture and detain a nonresident alien is, and must be, highly circumscribed. …