Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

  Federal judge rules that prisoners' detention at Guantanamo is unconstitutional

A federal court has for the second time in a little over three months delivered a stunning rebuke of the US government's justification for detaining suspects without trial at Guantanamo Bay prison. The first case concerned a single Uighur prisoner, Huzaifa Parhat, who brought suit under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 for a habeas-like court review of his own detention at Gitmo. Today's ruling concerns all the Uighurs held at Guantanamo.

The Bush administration's outlandish imprisonment of Uighurs at Guantanamo, at the behest of China, has been the weakest of weak points for its policies there. The US government admits that the Uighurs have never engaged in attacks or conspiracies against the US. It has held the Uighurs without charge for some 7 years at Gitmo merely as a favor to the Chinese as they attempt to crush dissent in the Uighur region of western China. The Bush administration has claimed for a few years that it would like to release the remaining Uighur prisoners from Gitmo but cannot find any countries willing to accept them.

In June of 2008 the DC Court of Appeals ruled on Parhat's case. It rejected with brutal sarcasm the findings of one Combatant Status Review Tribunal that had declared there was sufficient evidence against Parhat to continue holding him indefinitely at Guantanamo. The Appeals Court mocked the government's reliance upon hearsay and unvetted evidence at CSRTs, as well as its claims of secrecy in withholding evidence. The Court declared that the allegations needed to be proven and not simply assumed to be true. Therefore it ordered the administration either to release Parhat or hold a new hearing and attempt to actually prove its charges against him.

As a result, the US decided not to retry Parhat and to stop treating him as an enemy combatant. Later it did the same with another 4 Uighur prisoners, and then in late September with the remaining 12 Uighurs.

The June ruling was devastating because it pinned the Bush administration down over its reckless disregard for due process.

It was the first time a court has reviewed the military's decision-making and considered whether a detainee should be held. The ruling provides guidance to federal district judges, who are about to begin reviewing dozens of such cases now that the Supreme Court [in the Boumedienne decision] says detainees can challenge their detention in federal court.


Today's ruling by federal judge Ricardo Urbina went even farther in condemning Bush's policies of indefinite detention without trial. It is arguably the strongest rebuke yet of the government's lawlessness.

The hearing was initiated by lawyers for five of the seventeen Uighur prisoners, who argued that the government had inadequate evidence against the men to keep detaining them. Bush administration lawyers had argued in response that US courts have no power to order the release of prisoners held at Guantanamo. Originally today's hearing was supposed to concern whether the court had the authority to order their release.

In this case, Urbina had only two options: leave the Uighurs at Guantanamo Bay or order them released into the United States.

Justice Department lawyers have argued in court papers and at hearings that only the president has the authority to allow the men into the country. They also said the judge is barred from ordering their entry if they have ties to terrorist groups.


But judge Urbina accepted the Uighurs' argument that they're friendly toward the United States. He emphatically rejected the argument that courts have no power to uphold the habeas rights of prisoners just because the president wants to hold them under his own say so. Urbina frankly declared Bush's policies to be unconstitutional, and decided that instead of ruling merely on the question of jurisdiction, or narrowly on the five original plaintiffs, he would order the immediate release of all 17 Uighur prisoners.

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Bush administration to immediately release 17 Chinese Muslims who have been held for seven years at Guantánamo Bay, and to allow them to stay in the United States, because they are no longer considered enemy combatants.

The ruling, handed down by Federal District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, marked the first time that any United States court rejected government arguments and ordered the release of detainees from Guantánamo Bay, an American naval base in Cuba, since the detention center there opened in 2002.

[...]

“I think the moment has arrived for the court to shine the light of constitutionality on the reasons for the detention,” he said.


The Washington Post adds:

Urbina said in court that he ordered the release "because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detention without cause." He added, "The separation of powers do not trump" the prohibition against holding people indefinitely without trial.


A sweeping ruling and a magnificent victory for due process in the US. The Justice Department asked for a stay of his ruling, which Urbina rejected. The Uighurs, he said, had been held long enough and the Bush administrations' defense strategy had been to drag out proceedings in order to delay the day of justice for these prisoners.

"All of this means more delay," he said, "and delay is the name of the game up until this point."


That is in line with the Supreme Court's stunning ruling this summer in the Boumediene case, which famously argued that “the costs of delay can no longer be borne by those who are held in custody.” So Urbina orded the US government to produce the 17 Uighurs in his court on Friday so that he could release them. Then DOJ lawyer John O'Quinn played what he thought was his Executive-powers trump card.

O'Quinn said the legal ramifications from the order are complex and that he wants time to consult with officials from the Department of Homeland Security. Under existing U.S. law, immigration authorities may be forced to take the Uighurs into custody shortly after they arrive in the United States, O'Quinn said. The Justice Department alleges they have ties to a group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the government.


"I won't take that kindly," Urbina said. Threats by Bush's lawyers don't seem to work any longer.

The judge reacted angrily, saying he did not want the detainees molested by anyone in the government, in what he called an urgent matter.

“There was a pressing need to have these people, who have been incarcerated for seven years — to have those conditions changed,” Judge Urbina said.


Urbina added that DOJ and Homeland Security officials will get a chance at an Oct. 16 hearing to weigh in on whether and how the Uighurs should be monitored. But by the end of the week, the 17 men should be released in the custody of DC area Uighurs.

Since large numbers of habeas reviews are already underway for Guantanamo prisoners, today's ruling by Urbina will probably exert great influence in the dismantling of George Bush's obscenity at Guantanamo.

crossposted from Never In Our Names and unbossed.com

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