Remembering Judge John J. Gibbons, The Man Who Brought Habeas Corpus to Guantánamo

Judge John J. Gibbons, who has died aged 94, and prisoners at Guantanamo on the prison's opening day, January 11, 2002. Judge Gibbons successfully argued for their habeas corpus rights before the Supreme Court in 2004.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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are saddened to hear of the death, at the age of 94, of Judge John J. Gibbons, who was one of the signatories to our initial mission statement when we first launched “Close Guantánamo” on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison. Appointed in 1970 to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, by Richard Nixon, he served on that court for 20 years, the last three as Chief Judge. While at the court, he authored more than 800 opinions.

When he left the bench, Judge Gibbons became a Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School of Law in New Jersey, and also rejoined the firm he had been part of prior to becoming a judge, which become known as Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione in 1997, and then Gibbons P.C. in 2007.

Although he was a Republican, and, as Chris Hedges noted in a New York Times profile in February 2004, “his politics tend[ed] to veer to the conservative,” he was also “at once an insider and an outsider,” something of a “gadfly” at his largely corporate firm, where he was “one of the state’s leading crusaders against the death penalty.” He had, he told Hedges, “always been outraged by the use of the death penalty,” which was why his firm “filed ‘friend of the court’ briefs in almost every death penalty case in New Jersey.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Abandoning Guantánamo: The Supreme Court’s Shame as a Military Commission Appeal Is Turned Down

Protestors against rh existence of Guantanamo outside the US Supreme Court on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison (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.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On Tuesday (October 10), when the Supreme Court turned down an appeal submitted by Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Guantánamo prisoner convicted of terrorism charges in October 2008 in a military commission trial, the justices demonstrated that, for over nine years now, they have proved incapable of fulfilling their role of upholding the law when it comes to issues relating to terrorism.

This is a profound disappointment, because, four months before al-Bahlul’s conviction, on June 12, 2008, those who respect the law — and basic human decency — were thrilled when the Supreme Court delivered a major ruling in favor of the prisoners at Guantánamo. In Boumediene v. Bush, the justices ruled that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights; in other words, that they could ask an impartial judge to rule on whether or not their imprisonment was justified.

The ruling was the third major ruling by the Supreme Court regarding Guantánamo. In June 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the court had ruled that the military commission trial system at Guantánamo did not have “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.” The court also ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, prohibiting torture and “humiliating and degrading treatment,” had been violated. 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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