Guantanamo detainees on US soil: a legal minefield
President Obama wants to house some Guantanamo detainees in an Illinois prison. But bringing the detainess to the US will likely broaden their legal rights. 'How much?' is the unanswered question.
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Mr. Remes adds, “If the men are brought to the US, the government will no longer have that argument, and it will be possible for the detainees to raise a wider set of constitutional claims.”Skip to next paragraph
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Move could strengthen detainee lawsuits
These constitutional claims could strengthen the detainees’ ongoing habeas corpus lawsuits, Remes says.
Remes, who has spent years litigating on behalf of the detainees, says he doesn't support transferring the men from Guantánamo to Thomson Correction Center Illinois.
“When the habeas lawyers heard that Obama wanted to close Guantánamo, we thought that was a good thing because it would mean the men would be sent home,” he says. “We never imagined that to close Guantánamo would mean ‘move to a new location.’ “
Remes says he is concerned that the transfer to Illinois may worsen the day-to-day living conditions of his clients. He says he is worried that men now living in “relatively humane conditions of confinement” at Guantánamo may find themselves transferred into bleak supermax prison conditions.
The Obama administration has suggested that it is considering housing a number of the detainees sent to Illinois in open-ended military detention without charge. These are the detainees the administration considers too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to send home.
Professor Silliman says such an effort will likely spark appeals. “Where is the authority to do that?” he asks. “You are talking about a domestic preventative detention program. I know of no statute that currently authorizes it.”
For the transfers from Guantánamo to take place, the president must first convince Congress to lift its current restrictions on detainee transfers to the US, Silliman says. Congress has said detainees may only be brought to the US for trial.
The administration must also work with Congress to establish statutory authority to hold military detainees indefinitely in the US without charge, Silliman adds.
A law passed in 2001 authorizes the president to detain enemy combatants. But a 2004 Supreme Court ruling restricts the government’s use of that law to the detention of battlefield combatants during an ongoing military engagement, Silliman says. When the military conflict ends, so does the president’s authority to detain. The battlefield combatants must be sent home, he says.
The Obama administration continues to argue that the president has the authority to order the indefinite detention of terror suspects. But Silliman says that authority may disappear if the US withdraws from Afghanistan.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” the professor says. “It is one thing when you are picking folks up on the battlefield. It is another thing when you are moving them from Guantánamo Bay inside the US – and relying on the theory that you are keeping them off the battlefield.”
He adds, “That has its limitations.”
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