January 4, 2006
U.S. to Seek Dismissal of Guantánamo Suits
By NEIL A. LEWIS
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 Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, challenging their detentions, Justice
Department officials said Tuesday.
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 Guantánamo detainees.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department sent notices to all the federal judges in
Washington who have cases involving challenges brought by Guantánamo
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
Guantánamo as enemy combatants.
The administration had selected Guantánamo as the site for a detention camp
for terrorism suspects in the expectation that its actions would not be
subject to review by federal courts. But in June 2004, the Supreme Court
ruled that the naval base at Guantánamo 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.
In addition to arguing in court, the 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 Guantánamo
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.
The amendment instead allows the District of Columbia appellate court to
review the results of military tribunals at Guantánamo in which the
prisoners were found to have been properly deemed imprisoned as enemy
Administration critics have complained that the tribunals at Guantánamo, 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.
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."
The Justice Department requests asking the district judges to dismiss all
the habeas corpus petitions are expected to be challenged by lawyers for the
detainees, making it likely that the issue will be resolved by the appeals
court or the Supreme Court.
Although the courts and Congress are co-equal branches of government, the
Constitution allows Congress to define the scope of jurisdiction for all
federal courts below the Supreme Court.