Federal Court Decision Granting Guantanamo Bay Detainees Judicial Review Caps Red-Letter Day for Checks and Balances

December 18, 2003

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON - Following an earlier federal court decision this morning rejecting the White House's assertion that the President can unilaterally detain American citizens as ""enemy combatants,"" absent any due process protections, another federal court ruled this afternoon that the non-citizen enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are entitled to habeas corpus reviews to determine the propriety of their detention.

""Not one, but two federal courts have rebuked the President today for his belief that he should be able to lock people up without basic access to our justice system and without Congressional approval,"" said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director.  ""No President should be able to assume such unilateral authority over people's freedoms, most crucially during times of threat to our national well-being.""

The 2-1 decision by the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held, in response to a petition from the relative of a Libyan held in Cuba, that the 660 detainees should be afforded some minimal access to the U.S. legal system.

Writing for the majority, Justice Steven Reinhardt said, ""Even in times of national emergency -- indeed, particularly in such times -- it is the obligation of the Judicial Branch to ensure the preservation of our constitutional values and to prevent the Executive Branch from running roughshod over the rights of citizens and aliens alike. 

""We cannot simply accept the government's position,"" Reinhardt continued, ""that the Executive Branch possesses the unchecked authority to imprison indefinitely any persons, foreign citizens included, on territory under the sole jurisdiction and control of the United States, without permitting such prisoners recourse of any kind to any judicial forum, or even access to counsel, regardless of the length or manner of their confinement.""

The news comes on the heels of another federal court decision this morning, which repudiated the White House's argument that it should be allowed to hold American citizens without any due process.  

""The common thread binding these two decisions together is a fundamental affirmation of the basic American commitment to checks and balances on Executive Branch power,"" said Steven Shapiro, ACLU Legal Director.  ""The Bush administration is mistaken if it believes the proper way to fight the war on terrorism is to ignore the courts and the Congress.""

The 9th Circuit decision can be found at: /cpredirect/16919

More on the Guantanamo Bay detainees can be found at: /cpredirect/16828

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