Senate Restores Some Rights for Detainees: ACLU Says Move Welcome, But Still Falls Short

November 15, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The Senate today amended a recently adopted proposal that would deny all courts, including the Supreme Court, jurisdiction to consider legal challenges to the detention of foreign detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The American Civil Liberties Union called the step an improvement, but said that it still fell short of fully restoring the rule of law.

“Last Thursday, the Senate voted to turn Guantanamo Bay into a legal no-man’s land,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Today’s vote is a step in the right direction, but still does not adequately restore the rule of law that the Senate abandoned last week.”

The Senate today voted to revise the provisions in court-stripping legislation that passed last week as an amendment to the Defense Department authorization bill. The amendment offered last week by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) would have cut off nearly all access to the courts for persons at Guantanamo Bay who have been held for almost four years without being charged, without any meaningful access to an attorney, and without being told why they are being held.

Today, the Senate adopted a substitute offered by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Graham that partially reverses some of the restrictions in the Graham amendment, and restores some minimal due process protections for some persons held at Guantanamo Bay. The Levin-Graham amendment authorizes appeal to the courts by any person found by a combat status review tribunal to be an “enemy combatant” or by any person convicted by a military commission at Guantanamo Bay for at least ten years.

However, the ACLU noted that the amendment still has significant problems. It does not allow any habeas claim for protection against government-funded torture or abuse. It also does not provide any mandatory court appeal of a military commission conviction of a Guantanamo detainee for fewer than ten years, and prohibits all habeas claims if the government decides it is going to hold a person without ever determining their status.

The initial Graham amendment came just days after the Senate passed, for the second time, the McCain anti-torture amendment, and in the same week that the Supreme Court announced that it will consider the constitutionality of President Bush’s military commissions for detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

“The amendment passed by the Senate today is a significant improvement over the Graham amendment that passed last week,” added Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “However, Congress is still cutting short constitutional protections.”

To read the ACLU’s letter to the Senate on the initial Graham Amendment, go to:

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