Supreme Court Considers Habeas Rights for Guantanamo Inmates

December 07, 2007 06:06 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments for Boumediene v. Bush; political pundits begin to dissect the justices’ reactions.

30-Second Summary

The hearing took place on Dec. 5 and consolidated two cases, Boumediene v. Bush and al-Odah v. United States, to include 37 plaintiffs currently detained at Guantanamo, Cuba.

The U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo holds a number of "unlawful combatants," prisoners accused of being at war with the United States while fighting for a non-state actor, in this case a terrorist organization.

The United States does not extend the protection of the Geneva Convention to such prisoners. Nor are they given habeas corpus rights, which normally require that a detainee be formally charged in court to be retained in custody. For those reasons, the Guantanamo base has become an issue of international controversy.

Two questions are central to the court’s deliberations: first, whether the Military Commissions Act of 2006 stripped the federal court of jurisdiction over foreign citizens imprisoned indefinitely at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay; and second, whether the defense’s habeas corpus petitions have proved “unlawful confinement,” which would mean the reinstatement of habeas rights or would, at the least, lead to a further hearing on the merits of the case.

Seth Waxman, the former solicitor general during the Clinton years, argued on behalf of Boumediene, and current Solicitor General Paul A. Clement argued on behalf of the Bush Administration and the United States.

Clement asked the court to balance the detainees’ rights to challenge their detention with the goal of successfully prosecuting the war on terror. Waxman appealed to the right of habeas corpus, saying, "These 37 men have been held in isolation for nearly six years."

The court’s conclusion will be announced in the spring.

Headline Links: Boumediene v. Bush

Reference Material: Oral arguments and the questions before the court

"Supreme Court Weighs Guantanamo Habeas Cases”

Opinions & Analysis: A divided court?

Related Links: Briefs, proceedings and orders, and the Supreme Court Web site


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