It’s Ten Years Since the Supreme Court Granted Habeas Corpus Rights to the Guantánamo Prisoners, a Legal Triumph Until a Lower Court Took Them Away

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court calling for the closure of Guantanamo on Jan. 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the prison's opening (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Exactly ten years ago, I was briefly working for the human rights organization Reprieve, when a wonderful ruling came out of the US Supreme Court. In Boumediene v. Bush, the Court held that efforts by Congress to quash the habeas corpus rights that they had granted the prisoners in 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, had been unconstitutional, and asserted that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

We were overjoyed with the result, and for good reason. Although the Rasul ruling had allowed lawyers into Guantánamo, a derisory response by the Bush administration — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, administrative military reviews designed to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ blanket designation, on capture, as “enemy combatants” — and Congress’s obstructions, via the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, had prevented habeas cases from proceeding to the courts, as I explained at the time in my article, The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean?

In the ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy, delivering the Court’s majority opinion, ruled that the “procedures for review of the detainees’ status” in the DTA “are not an adequate and effective substitute for habeas corpus,” and that therefore the habeas-stripping component of the MCA “operates as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ.” Read the rest of this entry »

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens Calls for Compensation for the 57 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners Still Held

Former US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, photographed before his retirement in 2010.Last week, as three prominent Democratic Senators — Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin — wrote to President Obama urging him to take urgent action to release the 57 men still held at Guantánamo who have been approved for release by high-level governmental review boards, and who, for the most part, have been waiting over five years to be freed, Justice John Paul Stevens, a Supreme Court Justice from 1975 until his retirement in 2010, made a speech at which he not only urged the release of these men, but also suggested that some of them may be due compensation for their long and ultimately unjustifiable ordeal. The 57 men make up almost half of the total of 122 men still held, and include, prominently, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.

This is not, of course, the first time that former Justice Stevens, who is now 95 years old, has dealt with Guantánamo. When he retired, SCOTUSblog — the official Supreme Court blog — ran a series of articles about him, and in one of these articles, “Justice Stevens, Guantánamo, and the Rule of Law,” Daniel A. Farber, a law professor at Berkeley who clerked for him in 1976, explained the importance of his role in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 Supreme Court rulings that granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights (Rasul v. Bush in June 2004 and Boumediene v. Bush in June 2008, which I wrote about here), and that dealt with the legality — or rather the lack of it — of the military commission trial system at Guantánamo (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006).

Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Rasul v. Bush, in which, almost two and a half years after Guantánamo opened, and after a long journey through the lower courts, the Supreme Court “held that the habeas statute covered Guantánamo,” and turned down the Bush administration’s argument that the prison was on foreign soil. Although Congress then passed legislation that purported to block the prisoners’ habeas rights, the ruling allowed lawyers to take on prisoners as clients, and to visit the prison, breaking through the veil of secrecy that had allowed torture and other forms of abuse to proceed unchecked. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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