The Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a petition by seven detainees challenging their confinement at the U.S. military jail at Guantanamo Bay in a blow to opponents of the “war on terror” prison.
It came four years after the top U.S. court cleared the way for such challenges with its decision in Boumediene v. Bush, widely considered its most important ruling in the previous government’s “war on terror.”
That 2008 ruling had allowed detainees to challenge the legality of their detention when they had not been charged and to demand their release.
But the court rejected the latest appeal without comment, upholding an appeals court decision in Latif v. Obama and signaling that its stance on the issue has hardened over the past four years.
“The Supreme Court confirmed emphatically on Monday that it is not now inclined to further second-guess the government’s detention policy,” said Lyle Denniston, an analyst at Scotusblog.com.
“The practical effect is that the DC Circuit Court now functions as the court of last resort for the 169 foreign nationals remaining at the US-run military prison in Cuba, and that court has a well-established practice of overturning or delaying any release order issued by a federal judge, when the government objects,” Denniston wrote.
Lawyers for the detainees argued the appeals court had shown “manifest unwillingness to allow Guantanamo detainees to prevail in their habeas corpus cases.”
In all, seven Guantanamo detainees have filed habeas corpus petitions challenging their detention, and in every case the U.S. government has called on the Supreme Court to deny them a hearing.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, whose lawyers defend several of the Guantanamo detainees, said it was “extremely disappointed” by the court’s decision.
“By refusing to hear these cases, and any Guantanamo 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,” it said.
The center said the decision leaves detainees at the mercy of “a hostile DC 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.”
The District of Columbia appeals court, which has jurisdiction over Guantanamo, has never ruled in favor of releasing a Guantanamo detainee, and some of its judges have openly criticized the Boumediene ruling.
The CCR called on President Barack Obama to honor his promise to close the prison, and begin by freeing 87 detainees who US authorities have concluded should be released because they pose no danger to the United States.
Immediately after taking office in January 2009, Obama’s ordered the closure of the Guantanamo prison within a year.
But it ran into overwhelming opposition in the U.S. Congress which blocked funding for transfers of detainees in the United States.
Of the hundreds of detainees taken to Guantanamo since it was established in 2002 to hold “war on terror” suspects captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan, only 15 have been charged or tried before special military courts.