In Historic Arguments, Supreme Court Considers Legal Rights of Guantanamo Detainees

April 20, 2004 12:00 am

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Case Will Test American Values of “Justice for All,” ACLU Says


WASHINGTON – In two combined cases that the American Civil Liberties Union said call into question America’s commitment to the rule of law, the Supreme Court today will hear arguments to determine whether the detainees being held at a U.S. military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba are entitled to challenge the legality of their detention.

“The Guantánamo detainees have been placed in a legal limbo with no law to protect them and with no court to hear their pleas,” said ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro. “Our system of laws does not entrust any one person, including the president, with such unbridled power to abridge individual freedom.”

The ACLU is part of a broad-based coalition that filed a friend-of-the-court brief calling on the Justices to assure that the Guantánamo detainees have access to American courts to raise their legal claims.

The brief signed by the ACLU and others supports an appeal in two related lawsuits filed last year by relatives of 16 Guantánamo detainees who contend that their continued detention without any legal process violates the government’s constitutional and treaty obligations. The brief argues that the claim of the detainees can and must be heard by the federal courts to ensure that the United States government fulfills its basic obligations under the Due Process Clause and the Geneva Conventions.

Rather than rule on the merits, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that the Guantánamo camps were part of the “sovereign territory of Cuba” and thus outside the jurisdiction of U.S. laws.

The ACLU and others have also raised the concern that America’s treatment of the more than 600 Guantánamo detainees may make it harder to protect the rights of American soldiers captured overseas. Current and former military officials as well as former U.S. POWs have all filed briefs before the Supreme Court urging that the people indefinitely detained at Guantánamo be given due process of law.

The ACLU’s friend-of-the-court brief in the cases of Rasul v. Bush (03-334) and Al-Odah v. United States (03-343 ) is online at /supremecourt

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