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Guantanamo Bay Detainees Have a Right to Due
Process, NCC Asserts
In "Friend of the Court" Brief Filed Today with U.S. Supreme Court
January 14, 2003, WASHINGTON, D.C. - Foreign nationals being held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge the legality of their detention, assert the National Council of Churches (NCC) and other religious, legal and human rights organizations in a “friend of the court” brief filed this morning with the U.S. Supreme Court.
“What we are saying is that there is no land without law. The law of the United States requires due process, and so does international law,” said Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, the NCC’s Associate General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace, New York. “The NCC, as a religious organization, is interested from a moral standpoint in the right to due process, which is being denied the detainees in Guantanamo.”
The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights filed the brief at 11 a.m. today on behalf of the broad coalition of domestic and international organizations in Al Odah v. United States and Rasul v. Bush-consolidated cases that will test the assertion that the approximately 660 foreign nationals held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have no means of challenging the legality of their detention in court.
“These cases will mark the Supreme Court’s most important decision in a generation regarding the rights of non-citizens before U.S. courts,” said Deborah Pearlstein, Director of the Lawyers Committee’s U.S. Law & Security Program. “The Court should make clear that the Guantanamo prisoners have some means for challenging the legality of their detention by the United States.”
Despite widespread international protest, the United States has been holding foreign nationals from more than 40 different countries at Guantanamo since early 2002. The detainees have not been afforded a hearing to determine their participation in any conflict, or their connection to any crime.
At issue before the Supreme Court is an expansive decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which held that foreign nationals detained at Guantanamo may not petition U.S. courts for review of their detention-because Guantanamo is not formally U.S. “sovereign” territory. This ruling came despite the fact that U.S. courts are the only courts to which detainees can assert their innocence. The U.S. government exercises “complete jurisdiction and control” over Guantanamo under a perpetual lease signed by Cuba and the United States in 1903.
The brief argues that the Guantanamo detainees are entitled to review of their detention under the U.S. habeas corpus statute, which applies to anyone detained in violation of the laws or treaties of the United States. In their habeas petitions, the detainees argue that their detention violates the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War and the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution-both eligible grounds for review under the statute.
The brief also warns that the D.C. Circuit’s decision places the United States in conflict with other democracies, including Israel and the United Kingdom, which have long rejected the notion that governments can sidestep judicial review by holding individuals outside their sovereign territory. It also places the United States in violation of international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States formally adopted in 1992.
“The National Council of Churches has a long tradition of advocating for civil liberties and human rights,” said Dr. Kireopoulos. “In essence, in this case, we are urging our country, as a citizen of the world, to uphold the rights mandated by our international obligations - indeed, by our own Constitution.”
In addition to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and the National Council of Churches (full legal name: National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.), signatories to the brief include: the American Civil Liberties Union; the American Jewish Committee; Amnesty International; the Anti-Defamation League; the Association of the Bar of the City of New York; Human Rights Watch; the Islamic Circle of North America; the Law Society of England and Wales; the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; the National Association of Social Workers Legal Defense Fund; People for the American Way Foundation; the Rutherford Institute; Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, and the Union for Reform Judaism. The law firm of Wiggin & Dana, New Haven, Ct., served as counsel on the brief.
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