Guantánamo prisoners challenge indefinite detention

July 11, 2018

Today, lawyers representing eight long-term detainees at Guantánamo Bay argued in federal court that the US Government cannot continue to detain the prisoners there forever, immune to judicial review.

The mass habeas corpus motion, filed on the men’s behalf by Reprieve, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and other counsel, argues that their indefinite detention, based on President Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo, is arbitrary and unlawful.

“Keeping these men behind bars forever, when the government’s own investigators have determined that they committed no crime and pose no threat, is a shocking violation of the USA’s founding principles.”

“Guantánamo Bay is a global symbol of injustice, and a recruitment tool for America’s enemies. It has made us less safe, at huge expense to taxpayers, while doing lasting damage to the USA’s reputation as a beacon for fairness and liberty.”

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, Reprieve attorney who acts as legal counsel for 7 Guantánamo clients, including Tocwfiq Bihani and Abdul Latif Nasser

The literal translation of habeas corpus is “you hold the body” – and the government must prove that is legal. None of the men has been charged with a crime. The Trump administration’s lawyers claim their detention is not indefinite – which would violate the US Constitution as well as international law – but “indeterminate,” a semantic distinction that lawyers for the men challenged in court today.

At one point, Judge Thomas Hogan asked US Justice Department attorney Ronald Wiltsie whether the Government’s legal justification for detaining the men, based on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, would allow them to be imprisoned for 116 years – the duration of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. “Yes,” Wiltsie replied. “We are still engaged with the same battle foes in the same battle space.” In a war without end, the men are perpetually detained.

Reprieve represents four of the petitioners, including two men, Towfiq al Bihani and Abdullatif Nasser, who have been cleared for transfer by US defence and security agencies, but remain imprisoned, apparently with no hope of being released.

CCR’s legal director, Baher Azmy, argued the case in court today. “Our dangerous experiment in indefinite detention, after sixteen years, has run its course,” he said. “Due process of law does not permit the arbitrary detention of individuals, particularly at the hands of a president like Donald Trump, who has pledged to prevent any releases from Guantánamo.“

Reprieve client Abdulmalik Bajabu is also among the petitioners. He has been held without trial at Guantánamo Bay since 2007. In his last phone call with Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, he expressed hope that he will eventually be released.

“In Guantánamo there are not any rights. Might is right. The administration has power and you can do nothing. But people in America are good people—they don’t know what is going on in GTMO,” he said.

“I don’t lose heart, no matter what will come. I don’t know if I’ll wake up tomorrow, so I try to live for each day. We are all still praying but to be free is to be free in your heart. After all, people out there who have cancer suffer too, but try to make the most of their lives. Still, if the judge truly took an oath to do what is right then he will do what is right.”

Abdulmalik Bajabu, Reprieve client detained in Guantanamo Bay since 2007