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Guantanamo: Unresolved Issues Remain in the Courts

Posted: March 14, 2005

The Justice Department has filed for an expedited appeal of a decision entitling detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a hearing in federal court.  The Justice Department's request is the latest move in the litigation over the legal rights of the Guantanamo detainees since the Supreme Court's June 2004 decisions.  


In June, the Supreme Court held that Federal courts have jurisdiction to hear habeas appeals - an appeal that challenges the legality of a prisoner's detention - from Guantanamo detainees.  However, the Court's did not reach the issue of what, if any, constitutional rights beyond the right to file such a petition attached to the detainees. 


Habeas petitions from the detainees have come before two judges on the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia.  In the first case, Judge Richard J. Leon decided that Rasul gave detainees the right to file a habeas petition, but that the Court had no legal basis to grant relief; rather the process offered to the detainees by the tribunals established at Guantanamo Bay, called Combatant Status Review Tribunals, was sufficient to comply with the Supreme Court's mandate.


In the second case, which is the subject of the Justice Department's appeal, Judge Joyce Hens Green came to a diametrically opposite decision. In that case, Judge Green found the detainees to have constitutional due process rights, and that those rights are being violated by the Combatant Status Review Tribunals.  Judge Green also found that at least some of the detainees were entitled to an independent review of whether they should be subject to the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war. 


It is widely anticipated that the Court of Appeals will grant an expedited appeal in order to resolve the conflict between these two decisions  The issues raised in these cases are likely to be back before the Supreme Court in the near future. 

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