Key legal principle ‘functionally useless’ for Guantanamo detainees, says US judge

December 9, 2013

Image of detainees in Guantanamo bay

A US judge has described a fundamental legal principle – by which Guantanamo detainees seek relief from their indefinite detention through the courts – as ‘functionally useless’, in a ruling made last week.

The ruling, made on December 3rd in a DC Court of Appeal, came in the case of Abdul Razak Ali who was denied habeas corpus relief from his detention in Guantanamo, where he has been held without charge or trial since June 2002. Habeas Corpus is the centuries-old legal principle affording people the right to be charged with a crime or released from detention.

In the opinion, Judge Edwards wrote:   “The troubling question in these detainee cases is whether the law of the circuit has stretched beyond the meaning of the AUMF (Authorisation for the use of Military Force) and the NDAA (National Defence Authorisation Act) so far beyond the terms…that habeas corpus proceedings like the one afforded Ali are functionally useless.”

Judge Edwards went on:

“‘Our Nation’s “war on terror” started twelve years ago, and it is likely to continue throughout Ali’s natural life. Thus, Ali may well remain in prison for the rest of his life. It seems bizarre, to say the least, that someone like Ali, who has never been charged with or found guilty of a criminal act and who has never “planned, authorized, committed, or aided [any] terrorist attacks,” is now marked for a life sentence.”

Last week it was announced that a Sudanese prisoner will be released from Guantanamo and transferred back to Sudan because of a plea deal, while the 84 prisoners against whom no charges have been brought remain indefinitely detained. This is the case even for those with countries ready and willing to take them back. British resident Shaker Aamer, whose return to his family in London has been requested by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, has been held in Guantanamo since 2002 without charge or trial and has been cleared for release under both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director and lawyer for cleared men in Guantanamo, said: “Judge Edwards was right: the roads out of Gitmo for those not charged with a crime have been all but blocked off.  Cleared men like Shaker Aamer can’t even plead to an offense to get out. So there he sits, year after year, hoping one day his number comes up. Obama must send cleared men like Shaker home.” ENDS   Notes to editors   1. For further information, please contact Clemency Wells in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 7739 188 097 /

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