Monday, March 16, 2009

Obama administration: Guantanamo detainees have 'no constitutional rights'

Obama administration: Guantanamo detainees have 'no constitutional rights'

Joe Byrne

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Court documents filed Friday reveal that Obama's lawyers are arguing that Ex-Guantanamo detainees have no constitutional rights.

The Center for Constitutional Rights(CCR), a non-profit legal advocacy group, is supporting four British citizens - Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal al Harith – in their suit alleging religious mistreatment and torture at Guantanamo Bay. Defendants in the case include Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The four men say that they were “beaten, shackled in painful stress positions, threatened by dogs and subjected to extreme medical care,” according to the Miami Herald. In addition, they reported being forced to shave their beards, being banned from prayer, being denied prayer mats, and watching a copy of the Koran get tossed in the toilet.

Last year, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in D.C. voted unanimously against the 4 ex-detainees. The Appeals Court claimed that the men did not fit the definition of 'person' in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because they were foreigners being held outside the United States. Months later, the Supreme Court instructed the Appeals Court to reconsider their decision, based on a Supreme Court ruling that Guantanamo detainees have some rights under the constitution. On Friday, the CCR re-filed their brief in the D.C. Court of Appeal.

Obama's justice department is using an old strategy employed by the Bush administration. Their primary argument is that Ex-Guantanamo detainees don't have any constitutional rights. Even if they did, the brief continues, Rumsfeld and other officers should be immune from prosecution because detainees’ right not to be tortured and to practice their religion without abuse was “not clearly established” at the time of their detention. The Obama administration supports the earlier decision by the Appeals Court that the ex-detainees do not have constitutional person-hood. The case should be dismissed because of special factors “involving national security and foreign policy,” the government's brief concludes.

However, “it has long been established that there is an irreducible constitutional minimum that government officials owe to human beings under their control – whether citizen or alien – that necessarily includes the prohibition of torture,” the plaintiff's brief contends. CCR is disappointed the new administration “squandered this opportunity to separate themselves from the policies of the past and to speak with moral force about torture and religious freedom,” said Michael Ratner, president of the organization.

Obama has decided to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by 2010. On the same day as the ex-detainee's brief was filed, the White House dropped the term 'enemy combatant' from legal documents. The assertion that ex-detainees have no constitutional rights is a problem for non-citizens being detained outside of U.S. borders, who worry that this case will set precedent and enable the military to legally disobey the constitution.

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