Supreme Court Upholds Due Process for Guantanamo Prisoners
Washington, DC – Human Rights First welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision today in Boumediene v. Bush. Today’s decision will help to restore the credibility of the United States as a nation committed to due process and the rule of law and signals the beginning of the end of an unjust military commissions process that permits the use of coerced evidence and denies other fundamental due process protections. The privilege of habeas corpus – the right to challenge detention before a neutral judge – is the oldest and one of the most important protections against the arbitrary and unchecked exercise of power. After more than six years without any meaningful review of the basis for their detention, it is now clear that those imprisoned at Guantanamo are entitled to challenge their detention in federal court.
“This is not only a victory for the rule of law, but will strengthen U.S. counterterrorism policy,” says HRF Washington Director 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.”
Some will use today’s ruling to argue for the creation of a state-side replica of the administrative detention scheme at Guantanamo and for the creation of special terrorism courts. That would be a mistake. “Creating a new detention and trial system would perpetuate the errors of Guantanamo, not solve them. A separate system is unnecessary, and it would be a profound mistake,” said Massimino. “The United States criminal justice system is fully capable of handling the challenges posed by complex terrorism cases.”
America’s courts are up to the task of trying terrorism cases; federal courts have presided over cases implicating national security for more than two centuries. A recent Human Rights First report, In Pursuit of Justice, studies more than 120 international terrorism cases tried in the federal criminal justice system over the past fifteen years and finds that the system succeeds in balancing the need to protect sensitive national security information with defendants’ fair trial rights. “The federal laws and procedures have evolved to meet the challenges of prosecuting criminal cases arising from the growing and ever-changing threat of international terrorism,” says Massimino.
The Supreme Court’s decision does not mean that hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners will suddenly be released. In fact, some Guantanamo prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed have already been indicted in federal criminal courts. The Court has simply required what our Constitution demands: that the exercise of executive authority to deprive men of their liberty must be subject to meaningful federal judicial review.