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And Justice for All

June 16, 2008

In two cases known as Boumediene vs. Bush and al Odah vs. United States, the US Supreme Court has unreservedly affirmed that the right of habeas corpus must be given effect for the 270 so-called “enemy combatants” held at Guantánamo Bay.

Les mer på norsk hos Amnesty.

According to Amnesty International, the Supreme Court affirmed that foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay are entitled to effective means and procedures to challenge the legality of their detention before an independent and impartial court that has the power to order their release. This right, known as habeas corpus, is one of the oldest and most important protections against the arbitrary and unchecked exercise of power. The right of habeas corpus is recognized in universal international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the USA is party. It is also embedded in the US constitution, and the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the attempts by the Bush administration and Congress (through the 2006 Military Commissions Act) to strip the detainees of their right of habeas corpus

The Supreme Court ordered that the Guantanamo detainees must be given access to prompt habeas corpus hearings before the ordinary US courts, and the opportunity to effectively challenge both the legality of the laws under which they are being held and the substance of the allegations against them.

A victory for the rule of law

– This is not only a victory for the rule of law, but will strengthen U.S. counterterrorism policy, says Elisa Massimino, Washington Director for Human Rights First.

Alas, the victory is not a total one. The judgment of the Supreme Court does not in itself guarantee that the detainees will finally have an opportunity to raise the abuses to some authority other than their captors. President George W. Bush’s immediate response to the judgment was to side with the four Justices who dissented from the majority opinion. The President stated that the dissenters had been concerned about national security, and that the administration would “study this opinion, and we’ll do so with this in mind, to determine whether or not additional legislation might be appropriate”.

The US Justice Department has also expressed its disappointment with the Supreme Court Judgment. Austice Department statement of 12 June reads:”While we disagree with the ruling, it is important to note that the Boumediene case did not concern military commission trials… Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”

Amnesty International urges the administration to reconsider, and in my opinion, the Bush administration should take that advice to their hearts – if they have any. Should the administration choose to continue disrespecting not only the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the US Constitution, but also the Supreme Court, the prisoners at Guantanamo would not be the only losers. In the words of Elisa Massimino:

– Prolonged detention without charge and trials that violate our values as a Nation fuel terrorist propaganda and hamper efforts to nurture democracy and the rule of law around the world which are so critical to confronting the threat of terrorism.

Let justice be done

Time is overdue for the US government to bring its detention laws, policies and practices in line with international standards. For far to long, the Bush administration has shown nothing but contempt for international law as well as for their own justice system. This is not the first time the Supreme Court has ruled the treatment of Guantanamo prisoners unconstitutional. Neither is it the first time that the Bush administration has legislated around the judgments or otherwise resorted to trickery in order to keep justice from being done. In short, the US government has tried all solutions to the Guantanamo problem but one; the right one. Amnesty International considers that the surest way to avoid further rebuke by the Supreme Court, is to end the violations of human rights that have been a hallmark of its detention programs undertaken in the name of the “war on terror”. Detainees at Guantánamo must be given accessto civilian courts. The government should close Guantánamo promptly, abandon the fundamentally unfair military commission proceedings and either release or charge and try the detainees in US federal courts, without recourse to the death penalty. In other words: let there be justice for all!

Photo: US Navy /Wikimedia Common

Illustration: Carlos Latuff / Wikimedia Commons

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Synnøve permalink
    June 23, 2008 9:56 pm

    Well said! I’m shocked, but not surprised by Bush and his government’s relentless efforts to destroy democracy and overrule any ruling they don’t like.

    I hope they come to their senses, and that Boumediene vs. Bush and al Odah vs. United States will be known in the future as landmarking Surpreme Court Cases, like Roe vs. Wade (abortion) or Brown vs Board of Education (ruled segregated schools uncconstitutional).


  2. June 24, 2008 11:30 am

    Hehe, I had forgotten that you are a walking encyclopedia when it comes to supreme court cases. I certainly hope that Boumediene vs. Bush will become a landmark case. After all, are segregation and discrimination any less ugly when they happen in the so-called justice system than when they take place in schools?


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