A major topic of debate among Constitutional rights and immigration advocates was whether so-called “terror” suspects had a right to challenge their detention in the civilian courts. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. In a 5-4 decision, the justices handed the Bush administration yet another defeat in their quest to hold terror suspects indefinitely and without charges at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote for the majority in a 70-page opinion, stated, “We hold these petitioners do have the habeus corpus privilege.” He further added that the Congress had failed to provide an alternative for the prisoners held at the U.S. Naval Base to contest their detention.
In essence, the terror suspects were not afforded any real procedure to challenge their detention. Many Constitutional rights advocates hope that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling will lead to immediate hearings for many of the detainees. Some of the detainees have been detained for as long as six years to date. It is interesting to note that under the Geneva Conventions, these individuals could have been classified as prisoners of war. As such, the Bush administration could have detained them as POWs until the conclusion of the Iraq War, which would not have been for several more years. However, because the Bush administration was adamant that these “terror” suspects be tried in military tribunals, they could not be classified as prisoners of war.
Many Constitutional rights and immigration advocates, including the detainees’ lawyers, applaud the High Court’s decision and hope that their clients now have the opportunity to secure their freedom. Some of them felt that the Bush administration was too quick to act in detaining these individuals indefinitely, without formal charges and any real procedures for challenging their detention in light of 9/11. Obviously, the Supreme Court shares the same opinion.
Rob C. Tonogbanua
Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, P.C.