A federal judge ruled Thursday that some prisoners held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan have a right to challenge their imprisonment, dealing a blow to government efforts to detain terrorism suspects for extended periods without court oversight.
In a 53-page ruling that rejected a claim of unfettered executive power advanced by both the Bush and Obama administrations, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said that three detainees at the U.S. Bagram Air Base have the same legal rights that the Supreme Court last year granted to prisoners held at the American naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The three detainees — two Yemenis and a Tunisian — say they were captured outside Afghanistan, taken to Bagram, and have been imprisoned for more than six years without trials. Arguing that they were not enemy combatants, the detainees want a civilian judge to review the evidence against them and order their release, under the constitutional right of habeas corpus.
The importance of Bagram as a holding facility for suspected terrorists captured outside of Afghanistan and Iraq has increased under the Obama administration, which prohibited the CIA from using its secret prisons for long-term detention and ordered the military prison at Guantanamo closed within a year. The administration had sought to preserve Bagram as a haven where it can detain terrorism suspects beyond the reach of American courts, telling Bates in February that it agreed with the Bush administration’s view that courts have no jurisdiction over detainees there.
Bates, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001, was not convinced. He said transferring captured terrorism suspects to the prison inside Afghanistan and claiming they were beyond the jurisdiction of American courts “resurrects the same specter of limitless executive power the Supreme Court sought to guard against” in its 2008 ruling that Guantanamo prisoners have a right to habeas corpus.