The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Gitmo Prisoners Fight for Control of Post-release Fate

by Michelle Chen

Sept. 15, 2006 – Public-interest attorneys went to court this week to challenge the "legal Limbo" faced by detainees at the military detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

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Lawyers with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) appealed a decision by the US Circuit Court in Washington, DC to stay the cases of twelve detainees who have been imprisoned for four years without trial.

The twelve men are among an approximately 450 detainees still held captive at Guantánamo. Their attorneys are petitioning for full court hearings to challenge their indefinite detention, particularly since some have been formally deemed eligible for release by the Combatant Status Review Tribunal, the military-controlled panel that judges whether prisoners should remain in custody. The vast majority of the detainees at the camp have never been formally charged by the military.

Another issue in the case is the government’s appeal of lower-court rulings requiring that detainees be notified a month in advance of being transferred out of Guantánamo. Detainees wanted time to challenge their discharge plans if there was a possibility they would be persecuted or tortured in another country. CCR contends that without the prior-notice requirement, the US government would have unchecked authority to deliver a prisoner for torture abroad.

"It would allow the government to transfer any detainee anywhere they wanted to, for whatever purpose they wanted to, no matter what would happen to that detainee," CCR attorney Wells Dixon told The NewStandard.

AS they push for a speedy trial, detainees fear being released to places where they may be further persecuted.

One of the petitioners, Zakirjan Hassam, an Uzbek refugee, was sold to US authorities by Afghan soldiers in 2002. In 2004, the Tribunal deemed Hassam to have been erroneously detained.

Similarly, the US government also determined the Egyptian national Ala Abdel Maqsud Muhammad Salim was not an enemy combatant. But he remains imprisoned after requesting not to be repatriated to his home country, where he was previously tortured as a political prisoner.

For ten of the men – ethnic Muslim Uighurs from China who fled from persecution to Afghanistan before being apprehended by the US military – the prospect of release is darkened by the possibility of being moved to a country to face even bleaker conditions. In May, five Uighur men were transferred from Guantánamo to Albania due to concerns that they would face torture or persecution if returned to China.

In a press statement, CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez said of the petitioners, "After four years of persecution at the hands of the US government, we cannot risk shipping them off for further mistreatment abroad."

The Department of Justice, however, argued before the court that the detainees have no explicit constitutional right to immediate court review, and that "no federal court has authority to prohibit the president from releasing and transferring a Guantánamo detainee or to interfere with his determination as to which country the detainee should be released."

On Thursday, CCR denounced the Bush administration’s ongoing effort to push legislation that would authorize special military commissions to try detainees outside the civilian court system. Legislative proposals from both the White House and members of Congress would allow detainees to be tried using evidence drawn from coercive tactics. It would also restrict detainees’ ability to challenge their detentions or transfers in court.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Michelle Chen is a staff journalist.

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