< /head > Colorado Coalition for Human Rights: Detainees Face Limited Access to Courts

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Detainees Face Limited Access to Courts

From the Washington Post an article about the defense authorization bill approved by Congress this week and awaiting the President's signature:

An amendment sponsored by Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) eliminates detainees' ability to challenge the condition of their detentions through habeas corpus petitions. Graham, asserting that U.S. courts have become clogged by "frivolous" claims on behalf of nearly 300 detainees in Cuba, favored denying foreign terrorism suspects the same rights in federal court that are afforded to U.S. citizens.
Instead, he proposed allowing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the Combatant Status Review Tribunal decisions, in which detainees are ruled "enemy combatants" or "no longer enemy combatants."
Those who are considered enemy combatants can be held indefinitely. Detainees convicted by military commissions -- of which there have been none completed in the four years the Guantanamo Bay prison has operated -- are afforded federal court review.
Graham has called it "a balanced approach" that will allow Congress more oversight and have the federal court "looking over the tribunal's shoulder."
Military law experts worry that the legislation actually strips the federal courts of some of the judicial branch's integrity, for the first time since the Civil War suspending of habeas corpus rights and removing the courts from evaluating the executive branch's decisions to hold detainees indefinitely.
"Increasingly, people are going to come to recognize that the federal courts are an important bulwark here, and that the interest is not just in the detainees but in our country and our values," said Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington lawyer who is an expert in military law. "This is a very unfortunate development."
Several lawyers who represent detainees in Cuba said they do not fear that the 160 or so previously filed habeas corpus cases will be dismissed automatically when the bill becomes law. However, they do expect the government to challenge those cases at all levels of the federal courts.
And they said the legislation effectively overturns the 2004 Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush , which gave federal courts the authority "to determine the legality of the executive's potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be wholly innocent of wrongdoing," at least as it applies to Guantanamo Bay.
The measure before the president would prevent detainees transferred to Guantanamo Bay in the future from filing cases in U.S. courts, except to challenge their enemy combatant status or to appeal a verdict. Only 10 detainees have been moved into Guantanamo Bay since November 2003, and none in the past year, according to military spokesmen. The current population is just over 500.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes


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