WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take a new look at the rights of foreign prisoners held for the past decade at the Pentagon’s prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
Four years after pronouncing that detainees who face no charges have a right to challenge their ongoing confinement, the justices rejected appeals arguing that the federal appeals court in Washington has largely ignored the high court’s command.
The appeals court has not ordered the release of any detainee and has reversed several lower court release orders. In addition, some appellate judges have been unusually critical of the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush.
There are 169 foreigners remaining at Guantánamo, including five men who are facing a capital murder tribunal for their alleged roles in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The justices offered no comment on their orders Monday in appeals from seven detainees.
Lawyers for the detainees criticized the court for refusing to take up the appeals.
"By refusing to hear these cases, and any Guantánamo cases since its 2008 Boumediene decision, the court abandons the promise of its own ruling guaranteeing detainees a constitutional right to meaningful review of the legality of their detention," said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.
"Today’s decision leaves the fate of detainees in the hands of a hostile D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has erected innumerable, unjustified legal obstacles that have made it practically impossible for a detainee to win a habeas case in the trial courts."
Separately, the justices chose not to reinstate a lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other government officials brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of former "enemy combatant” Jose Padilla and his mother, Estela Lebron.
Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was never held at Guantánamo, alleged unlawful detention and torture during his detention at a Navy brig in South Carolina, and sought to sue former Defense Secretary and the former brig commander, a U.S. Navy officer. He was held at the brig without charge prior to his transfer to Miami for a federal trial and conviction on charges of supporting terrorism.
Padilla is serving a 17-year sentence in a federal prison in Colorado.
The ACLU decried the court, saying the justices’ “refusal to consider Jose Padilla’s case leaves in place a blank check for government officials to commit any abuse in the name of national security, even the brutal torture of an American citizen in an American prison.”
Padilla was never held at Guantánamo as part of a Bush era effort to distinguish between foreign captives and American citizens also held as enemy combatants, a category of captive the Obama administration has abandoned.
The rejected appeals, brought by foreigners still held at Guantánamo, included the cases of two detainees from Yemen who won their habeas corpus petitions at the trial court level only to have their hopes for release dashed by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The appeals court threw out the release for Adnan Latif, ruling that the district judge in Latif’s case did not give enough weight to government intelligence reports that Latif probably was seeking military training in an al Qaida camp. Latif was captured near the Afghan-Pakistani border in late 2001.
U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy had found that the government had failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the Yemeni man was part of al Qaida or an associated force. Latif has been at Guantánamo since 2002.
Appellate judges also overturned an order to release Hussain Salem Mohammad Almerfedi. In the Almerfedi case, the appeals court said that circumstantial evidence of terrorist ties can be enough to keep a prisoner.
Government attorneys argued that Almerfedi stayed at an al Qaida-affiliated guesthouse based on the testimony of another Guantánamo detainee. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman found the testimony unreliable and ordered Almerfedi released.
The circumstances of Almerfedi’s capture have not been clearly explained. He was apprehended in Tehran, Iran, after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Iranian officials turned him over to Afghan authorities in March 2002 in a prisoner exchange. In May 2003, U.S. forces moved him to Guantánamo Bay, where he has remained since.