High Court Rejects Challenge of Detainees at Guantanamo; Habeas Corpus Block to Standby 6-3 Majority

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The Supreme Court yesterday declined to let Guantanamo Bay detainees challenge the law that bars them from bringing habeas-corpus petitions asking federal judges to review their detention in the war on terrorism.

By a 6-3 majority, the justices left standing a lower-court ruling that federal judges had no jurisdiction in the matter. Because four justices must agree before the court will hear a case, the ruling is a temporary victory for President Bush's broad authority to hold without charges and eventually bring to trial 385 Guantanamo detainees.

The case involved separate appeals, one by 39 prisoners who have been at Guantanamo for five years without charges, and another involving six Algerians captured in Bosnia and held at Guantanamo since January 2002.

In February, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit voted 2-1 to block prisoners at Guantanamo from challenging their detention in District Courts. Judges A. Raymond Randolph and David B. Sentelle said Congress had stripped the detainees of their right to seek a hearing through a writ of habeas corpus. The D.C. court denied the group of 39 in a case later joined by the six Algerians.

In the Supreme Court ruling, Justices John Paul Stevens and Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, denied the appeals "despite the obvious importance of the issues raised in these cases."

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 said no court, justice or judge has jurisdiction to consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus by or on behalf of an alien detained as an enemy combatant. Guantanamo was opened in January 2002 to hold terrorism suspects. Of the 385 detainees, 10 have been charged.

The justices said they were "persuaded that traditional rules governing our decision of constitutional questions .. and our practice of requiring the exhaustion of available remedies as a precondition to accepting jurisdiction over applications for the writ of habeas corpus .. make it appropriate to deny these petitions at this time."

They said the detainees should go before military tribunals first and seek a Supreme Court review later if they can show the "government has unreasonably delayed proceedings" under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. …