News & Politics

Federal Judge to Obama DOJ: You're Wrong, Bagram Prisoners Do Have Rights

Issuing a stern warning on executive power, Judge John D. Bates has granted three prisoners in Afghanistan the right to challenge their detention.

Barack Obama's Department of Justice made headlines in late February when it adopted the Bush administration's notoriously unconstitutional stance on prisoners at Bagram Air Base, claiming that such "detainees" have no right to challenge their detention. As the Independent UK reported at the time, "less than a month after signing an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, President Barack Obama has quietly agreed to keep denying the right to trial to hundreds more terror suspects held at a makeshift camp in Afghanistan that human rights lawyers have dubbed 'Obama's Guantanamo.'"
Four prisoners at Bagram, however, have been challenging this position in court since before Obama took office -- and today, three of them won a major victory.
In a momentous, 53-page decision by Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, a U.S. court concluded "for the first time," according to the International Justice Network, "that detainees held indefinitely without charge in U.S. custody in Afghanistan are entitled to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts."
Judge Bates wrote that "Bagram detainees who are not Afghan citizens, who were not captured in Afghanistan, and who have been held for an unreasonable amount of time" are entitled to the right of habeas corpus -- a smackdown of the Obama administration's claim to the contrary.
Obama lawyers have argued that, because Afghanistan (unlike Gitmo) is located in an active "war zone," prisoners held their may be subjected to indefinite detention. But Judge Bates didn't buy it.
"Although the site of detention at Bagram is not identical to that at Guantanamo Bay, the 'objective degree of control' asserted by the U.S. … is not appreciably different than at Guantanamo," Bates wrote.
Moreover, the right of habeas corpus was "forged to guard against" executive abuses like the "arbitrary exercise of the government's power to detain," he warned. Quoting the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which granted prisoners at Guantanamo habeas rights, Bates wrote, "the Executive does not have "the power to decide when and where [the Constitution's] terms apply."

Liliana Segura is a staff writer and editor of AlterNet's Rights and Liberties and War on Iraq Special Coverage.
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