Wednesday, January 04, 2006

U.S. to Seek Dismissal of Guantánamo Suits

This is disgusting. From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 - The Bush administration notified federal trial judges in Washington that it would soon ask them to dismiss all lawsuits brought by prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, challenging their detentions, Justice Department officials said Tuesday.

President Bush speaks, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2006, at the Pentagon after he participated in Department of Defense briefings on Iraq. Left to right are Admiral Ed Giambastiani, General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

The action means that the administration is moving swiftly to take advantage of an amendment to the military bill that President Bush signed into law last Friday. The amendment strips federal courts from hearing habeas corpus petitions from Guantanamo detainees.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department sent notices to all the federal judges in Washington who have cases involving challenges brought by Guantanamo inmates, informing them of the new amendment. The officials said the department would file formal notices within several days asking the judges to dismiss more than 160 cases involving at least 300 detainees.

If the administration wins its argument it would mean an abrupt end to a wide effort by dozens of lawyers to use the right of habeas corpus in federal courts to challenge the imprisonment of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo as enemy combatants.

Now you're probably wondering how is the Bush administration trying to dismiss these Gitmo suits? Well, first, the Bush administration decided to place the "enemy combatants" the military had captured in Iraq and Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, as a way to avoid any legal review by the federal courts. The Gitmo prison was on military soil, subjected to military jurisdictiontion and not to the federal courts. That was the White House's argument at first. But that all changed:

[In] June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that the naval base at Guantanamo was not outside the jurisdiction of United States law and that the habeas corpus statute that allows prisoners to challenge their detentions was applicable.

The challenges were brought in various district courts in Washington. After some federal judges disagreed over the meaning of the Supreme Court ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit took up the issue, and during arguments in September, the appeals judges seemed skeptical of the administration's contentions.

Now here's the fun part. The Bush administration decided to go shopping in Congress to find members who would be favorable of stripping these detainees their habeas corpus rights. Guess who the Bush administration found:

[The Bush] administration separately pressed its case in Congress and found a strong ally in Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who said the challenges brought by Guantanamo inmates were frivolous and were clogging the courts. Mr. Graham, along with Senators Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, and Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, sponsored the amendment to the Defense Act eliminating habeas corpus jurisdiction in federal courts.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Rep. South Carolina

Senator Carl Levin, Dem. Michigan

Senator Jon Kyl, Rep. Arizona

The amendment instead allows the District of Columbia appellate court to review the results of military tribunals at Guantanamo in which the prisoners were found to have been properly deemed imprisoned as enemy combatants.

What especially strikes me here is that Carl Levin--a Democratic senator--went along with this White House charade. It makes me wonder, what did the White House give Levin to jump onto this "bipartisanly-supported" amendment. It also strikes me that none of the other Democratic senators even raised this issue on the Senate floor, when the defense bill was brought up for debate, and to vote. We've heard enough about the Bush administration's fight to keep the McCain anti-torture statute off the defense bill, before finally backing down in the face of strong Congressional pressure. But this was never brought up. I'm not even sure the mainstream press even brought this issue up--until now. Continuing on:

Administration critics have complained that the tribunals at Guantanamo, in which panels of three officers decide whether a prisoner is an enemy combatant, are unfair in several respects. The prisoners are not represented by lawyers and they often may not see evidence used against them for national security reasons.

And what is the Bush administration's argument to this criticisms that these "enemy combatants" are clogging the courts with "frivolous lawsuits?" Consider this:

Tasia Scolinos, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said the detainees had ample opportunity to be heard.

"We are aware of no other country that has provided their enemies with such extensive legal review during an ongoing conflict," Ms. Scolinos said. "Detainees are entitled to legal review both within the military system and to the highest civilian courts in the country."

Excuse me? These prisoners are not represented by lawyers in their military tribunals, nor can they challenge the evidence or question witnesses testifying against them because of national security reasons? They are not even considered "prisoners of war," since that would entitle them to legal rights under the Geneva Convention--not that the Bush White House has any respect for the Geneva Convention, or any international agreements at all. Basically, the Bush White House wants to lock these prisoners up, and let them rot in jail, hoping they will be forgotten by the American public. And now this legislation that was handed to the Bush White House by Graham, Levin, and Kyl--practically on a silver platter--will allow the administration to do this. Of course, any such dismissal by federal judges will be appealed, sending this case up to the Supreme Court. But such a case will probably be heard in the Supreme Court in late 2006, or in 2007. And the court's judicial make-up will change with the possible confirmation of Samual Alito. If Alito is a hard-liner, he could rule in favor of the administration, giving the Bush White House the right to incarcerate anyone they feel like--with no legal rights.

Now, this is all speculation. But it is disturbing.

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