By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
Dec. 14, 2006 – Upholding the legality of October's Military Commissions Act, a federal court ruled here yesterday that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, do not have the right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts. Judge James Robertson issued a decision and order in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissing the habeas corpus case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden who is being held at Guantanamo Bay. Robertson concluded that the Military Commissions Act unambiguously withdraws the right of habeas corpus -- which allows people who are imprisoned to go before a judge and challenge their detention -- from detainees and that this withdrawal is constitutional.
"The Suspension Clause does not guarantee the right to petition for habeas corpus to non-resident enemy aliens captured and detained outside the United States," Robertson wrote in his decision. In other words, Congress may constitutionally deprive these detainees of the writ of habeas corpus.
Defense Department officials said they were pleased with Robertson's ruling, as it removes federal court jurisdiction over Hamdan's case and similar cases. Officials noted that Congress did provide in the Military Commissions Act that detainees may challenge their detention before fair military tribunals with an appeal to the D.C. Circuit, and that is more process than the U.S. has ever provided to enemy combatants in past conflicts.
"We are, of course, pleased with the ... ruling," said Bryan Whitman, DoD spokesman. "We are continuing to implement the provisions of the Military Commissions Act passed by Congress, and we hope to bring individuals before commissions by next summer. There are still facilities that need to be built in order for commissions to proceed, and we're working on that."
Robertson granted Hamdan's first habeas petition in November 2004, and the case made it to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in June that President Bush had overstepped his authority in creating the military commissions. In September, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, authorizing military commissions and clarifying the rights of detainees, specifically on the issue of access to courts.
The Military Commissions Act changes the nature of Hamdan's case, Robertson said in his ruling.
"Hamdan is to face a military commission newly designed, because of his efforts, by a Congress that finally stepped up to its responsibility, acting according to guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court," he wrote. "It is difficult to see how continued habeas jurisdiction could make further improvements in his tribunal."
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