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Guantánamo Detainees: shorter wait?

Last month's Supreme Court ruling sets new rules for judges examining habeas corpus challenges from detainees.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 3, 2008

Still waiting: Guantánamo detainees, like this one at the maximum security prison at Camp 5 in Cuba, may now challenge their detention.

Brennan Linsley/ap



The Bush administration is facing a long, hot summer of fierce litigation over who is, and who isn't, an enemy combatant in the war on terror.

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Judges at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., are gearing up for an anticipated influx of habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of terror suspects being held at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp.

The action was prompted by the US Supreme Court's June 12 ruling that foreign detainees at Guantánamo have the right to force the US government to prove the legality of their ongoing detention to a neutral judge. Many of the detainees have been held at Guantánamo for more than six years.

It now falls to the active judges at the US District Court in Washington to carry out the Supreme Court's instructions.

This is not how government lawyers had hoped to spend their summer and the remaining months of the Bush administration. The first military commission trial is scheduled to begin later this month at a specially-constructed judicial complex at Guantánamo Bay. Osama bin Laden's former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, is set to stand trial.

But the Supreme Court's ruling is raising a string of questions not only about habeas proceedings in Washington, but also about whether the commission process itself must now comply with additional constitutional safeguards.

A military judge at Guantánamo has declined a request to postpone Mr. Hamdan's trial in light of the Supreme Court decision. But a federal judge in Washington is also set to examine the issue. In the meantime, the Defense Department is moving forward with the Hamdan case and others. On Monday, the Pentagon announced that military commission charges had been filed against Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri of Saudi Arabia for his alleged role in the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Mr. Nashiri became the 20th individual slated for a military commission trial at Guantánamo

The Bush administration has fought successfully for years to prevent the detainees at Guantánamo from gaining access to civilian judges and their higher standards of proof. They had argued that such efforts might trigger judicial chaos. Some critics of the Supreme Court decision are repeating that prediction.