[Ppnews] Judge Rules Some Prisoners at Bagram Have Right of Habeas Corpus
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 3 11:33:41 EDT 2009
April 3, 2009
Judge Rules Some Prisoners at Bagram Have Right of Habeas Corpus
WASHINGTON A federal judge ruled on Thursday
that some prisoners held by the United States
military in Afghanistan have a right to challenge
their imprisonment, dealing a blow to government
efforts to detain terrorism suspects for extended
periods without court oversight.
ruling that rejected a claim of unfettered
executive power advanced by both the Bush and
Obama administrations, United States District
D. Bates said that three detainees at the United
Air Base had the same legal rights that the
Court last year granted to prisoners held at the
American naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The three detainees two Yemenis and a Tunisian
say that they were captured outside Afghanistan
and taken to Bagram, and that they have been
imprisoned for more than six years without
trials. Arguing that they were not enemy
combatants, the detainees want a civilian judge
to review the evidence against them and order
their release, under the constitutional right of
The importance of Bagram as a holding site for
terrorism suspects captured outside Afghanistan
and Iraq has increased under the Obama
administration, which prohibited the
Intelligence Agency from using its secret prisons
for long-term detention and ordered the military
prison at Guantánamo closed within a year. The
administration had sought to preserve Bagram as a
haven where it could detain terrorism suspects
beyond the reach of American courts, telling
Judge Bates in February that it agreed with the
Bush administrations view that courts had no
jurisdiction over detainees there.
Judge Bates, who was appointed by President
W. Bush in 2001, was not persuaded. He said
transferring captured terrorism suspects to the
prison inside Afghanistan and claiming they were
beyond the jurisdiction of American courts
resurrects the same specter of limitless
executive power the Supreme Court sought to guard
against in its 2008 ruling that Guantánamo
prisoners have a right to habeas corpus.
Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said
that the administration was reviewing the
decision and that it had made no decision about whether to appeal.
Judge Bates emphasized that his ruling was quite
narrow. He said that it did not apply to
prisoners captured on the battlefield in
Afghanistan, and that a determination of whether
prisoners might challenge their detention in
court would depend on a case-by-case analysis of
factors like their citizenship and location of capture.
It is one thing to detain those captured on the
surrounding battlefield at a place like Bagram,
which respondents correctly maintain is in a
theater of war, the judge wrote. It is quite
another thing to apprehend people in foreign
countries far from any Afghan battlefield and
then bring them to a theater of war, where the
Constitution arguably may not reach.
Moreover, the judge has put off ruling that a
fourth prisoner also captured outside
Afghanistan, but holding Afghan citizenship had
a right to challenge his detention. He said any
order to release the detainee could lead to
frictions with the Afghan government, and asked
for additional briefings on that case.
The United States is holding about 600 people at
Bagram without charges and in spartan conditions.
United States officials have never provided a
full accounting of the prison population, but an
American government official, speaking on
condition of anonymity because it is against
policy to discuss details of the Bagram prison,
said that fewer than a dozen detainees fell into
the category affected by the ruling non-Afghans
captured beyond Afghan borders.
Judge Bates has been involved in several
high-profile executive power cases. In 2002, he
sided with the Bush administration in a lawsuit
over whether Vice President
Cheneys energy task force records were required
to be disclosed. But in 2008, he sided with
Congress in an executive-privilege dispute over
whether top aides to Mr. Bush were immune from
subpoenas related to the firing of federal prosecutors.
David Rivkin, an associate White House counsel in
the administration of the first President Bush,
predicted that Judge Batess ruling would be
overturned on appeal. He warned that the ruling
gravely undermined the countrys ability to
detain enemy combatants for the duration of hostilities worldwide.
But Tina Foster, the executive director of the
International Justice Network, which is
representing the four Bagram detainees, praised
Judge Batess decision as a very good day for
the Constitution and the rule of law.
Ms. Foster said that the Bagram ruling meant that
changes to the Bush detention policies would go
beyond merely closing Guantánamo and extend to
any place where the United States seeks to hold
individuals in a legal black hole.
The power of federal judges to review decisions
by the executive branch to imprison a terrorism
suspect was among the most contentious legal
issues that arose after the 2001 terrorist
attacks. The Bush administration began a policy
of holding prisoners indefinitely and without
trials, arguing that federal judges had no
authority to second-guess its decisions about
whom to name an enemy combatant.
But human-rights lawyers challenged those
policies, winning Supreme Court decisions in
2004, 2006 and 2008 that gradually expanded the
reach of the American legal system over detainees.
After taking office, Mr. Obama ordered a review
of the evidence against each of the roughly 240
prisoners at Guantánamo as a first step toward
closing the prison within a year.
He did not extend the steps he was taking to
resolve the fate of the Guantánamo prisoners to
those held at Bagram, although a comprehensive
review of detainee policies is due to be
completed in July. Ms. Foster said that the
Bagram case may force the administration to speed up its decisions.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.
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