Tags: Court | Hear | Guantanamo | Prisoners | Appeals

Court to Hear Guantanamo Prisoners Appeals

Saturday, 30 June 2007 12:00 AM

The Supreme Court said on Friday it would hear appeals by Guantanamo prisoners on their right to challenge their indefinite confinement, a test of President George W. Bush's powers in the war on terrorism.

The high court in April had denied the same appeals by the prisoners. In a surprise and highly unusual reversal, the justices said they would hear arguments and decide the two cases during the court's term that starts in October.

At issue is an anti-terrorism law that Bush pushed through Congress last year taking away the right of the foreign terrorist suspects at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to have a judicial review of their detention.

The Supreme Court's decision to hear the cases was a setback for the Bush administration, which had urged the justices to turn down the appeals.

"We did not think that court review at this time was necessary, but we are confident in our legal position," said White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

There are about 375 detainees at the prison, which critics, including some of Washington's allies, have demanded be closed. The first arrived more than five years ago after the United States launched its war on terrorism in response to the September 11 attacks.

Bush has said he would like to close Guantanamo but calls the prison a necessary tool in the war on terrorism. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Democratic lawmakers want to close it.

"We are studying the issues so that we have the facts, the record to close Guantanamo prison, not the (U.S. naval) base" at Guantanamo, the California Democrat said outside her office.

"Damn right it ought to be closed," House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, said.

Three of the nine Supreme Court justices in April dissented from the decision to reject the appeals by the Guantanamo prisoners, and two others left open the possibility of hearing the appeals later.

After the appeals had been rejected in April, lawyers for the prisoners asked the court to reconsider, and the court on Friday agreed. The last time the court granted such a request after an initial denial was in 1968, a court source said.

The court gave no explanation in its one-paragraph order for the reversal.

The Supreme Court has rejected Bush's policies in the war on terrorism in three rulings, the most recent one a year ago that struck down his initial system of military tribunals for the Guantanamo prisoners.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, the military lawyer who represents Guantanamo prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen, said the upcoming Supreme Court decision could be key.

"It's almost absolutely a recognition that the problems aren't getting better in Guantanamo with time," Swift said.

Zachary Katznelson, a senior counsel at the London-based lawyers' group Reprieve, which represents dozens of Guantanamo prisoners, called the court's decision a major possible breakthrough for detainee rights.

"They realized, 'Wait maybe we made a mistake, we really need to look at these issues,"' he said. "I think it (the Supreme Court decision) could mean the end of the legal black hole of Guantanamo."

Air Force Col. Moe Davis, the military's chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo tribunals, said the Supreme Court's about-face was disappointing.

"This constant uncertainty and meddling certainly takes a toll on people," he said. "It would be nice to have some certainty for a change."

The decision to hear the Guantanamo cases was announced the day after the justices ended their 2006-2007 term.

© reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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The Supreme Court said on Friday it would hear appeals by Guantanamo prisoners on their right to challenge their indefinite confinement, a test of President George W. Bush's powers in the war on terrorism. The high court in April had denied the same appeals by the...
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Saturday, 30 June 2007 12:00 AM
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