On December 19th, two federal appellate courts ruled in two separate cases that terrorist suspects are entitled to full court hearings and that the government lacks the authority to indefinitely detain prisoners without access to lawyers or to the evidence against them. The ultimate decision regarding prisoners in the war on terror will be made by the Supreme Court.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the most liberal appellate court, decided that a detainee at the Guantanamo Bay prison, Salim Gherebi, a Libyan, should be granted a court hearing and be represented by an attorney. The 2-1 decision has given way to the anticipation that other prisoners at Guantanamo will be given “habeas corpus” hearings in a US Court.
However, some legal observers say that this case will become insignificant when it is heard by the US Supreme Court in addition to similar pending cases.
The decision, written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, stated that the government should not have “the unchecked authority to imprison indefinitely any person, foreign citizens included...without permitting such prisoners recourse of any kind to any judicial forum.”
In November, the Supreme Court agreed to hear another pending case. Prior to this decision, previous federal court decisions regarding the Guantanamo prisoners stated that the prisoners had no right to habeas corpus hearings.
In a separate 2-1 decision made by the Second Circuit Court in New York, the court ruled that President Bush does not have the authority to indefinitely detain a United States citizen arrested in the US on suspicion of terrorism by declaring him “an enemy combatant.” Jose Padilla has been identified as an al-Qaeda operative who entered the US to set off a “dirty bomb.”
The Court declared that while Congress may be able to authorize the detention of a US citizen, “the president, acting alone, possesses no inherent constitutional authority to detain American citizens seized within the United States, away from the zone of combat, as enemy combatants.”
In addition to hearing the Guantanamo cases, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issues raised in the case of Jose Padilla, the American declared an enemy combatant. The court is also expected to announce next week whether it will hear a related case involving Yaser Esam Hamdi, who has been held alongside Mr. Padilla in the naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Hamdi, who is believed to be a United States citizen as well as a Saudi, was arrested in Afghanistan and is being held as an enemy combatant, an action that was upheld by an appeals court based in Richmond, Virginia.