Human Rights First Statement on Oral Arguments in Hamdan Case

WASHINGTON, DC – The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. This case is a major test of the Bush administration’s assertion that the President has sole authority to try detainees in military commissions without clear congressional authorization or oversight by the courts.

“The Court was understandably concerned by the argument the President made today – that Congress could validly suspend the writ of habeas corpus for hundreds of people in U.S. custody, leaving them without meaningful recourse to the courts whether to challenge the fairness of a trial in which they could be sentenced to death, or even to address actual claims of torture,” said Deborah Pearlstein, Director of Human Rights First’s U.S. Law & Security Program.  Pearlstein attended oral arguments in Washington, D.C. today.  “There was no confusion among the justices that this was one of the logical implications of the Administration’s argument that Congress had deprived the Court of jurisdiction to rule on the legitimacy of the military tribunals set up at Guantanamo Bay,” Pearlstein added.

The Hamdan case is the first time the Court has considered the lawfulness of military commissions since World War II, and the first time since the Civil War it has faced arguments about whether the political branches can strip the Court of its power to decide a case it has already agreed to hear. Human Rights First has filed a series of amicus briefs in the Hamdan case and has been an active participant in the case – beginning with Hamdan’s pretrial hearings in the commissions at Guantanamo Bay through amicus briefing in the Supreme Court.

Said Pearlstein: “Guantanamo Bay has become an albatross around the neck of U.S. national security. Allowing the detention situation there to continue to fester, without serious review by the courts, serves neither the interests of justice, nor the interests of the United States.”

HRF’s latest brief argues that the military commissions are beyond the President’s statutory or constitutional authority because, among other things, they allow for the admission of evidence obtained under coercive interrogation. HRF welcomed the Administration’s announcement last night of a new rule excluding evidence obtained through torture from consideration by the Guantanamo military commissions, but noted it was a limited step. “The new rule falls far short of bringing the commissions into compliance with ordinary U.S. military justice standards or what’s permissible under U.S. constitutional or international law.  These laws, with which any U.S. military tribunal must comply, require the exclusion of not only evidence gained under torture per se, but all evidence gained under unlawful coercion, including the kinds of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that has been documented at Guantanamo Bay and is now prohibited by the McCain law passed last year,” Pearlstein said.


Published on March 28, 2006


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