The first successful appeal of a Guantanamo Bay detainee’s designation as an enemy combatant was decided on Tuesday. A federal appeals court in Washington overturned the Bush administration’s previous decision. The court ordered the government to release, transfer or offer Huzaifa Parhat, an ethnic Chinese Uighur, a new hearing. Michael Ratner says this decision coupled with last week’s Supreme Court ruling, that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay can take their cases to the American courts, signals “the death knell for Guantanamo Bay.”
ZAA NKWETA, PRODUCER/PRESENTER: A federal appeals court in Washington has invalidated the Bush administration’s finding that a detainee held for more than six years in the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba is an enemy combatant, and has ordered the government to release him, transfer him, or offer him a new hearing. The case is the first successful appeal of a detainee’s designation as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay. The Real News Network spoke to Michael Ratner, president for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It was a remarkable defeat for the administration. This was a case that went from these combatant status review tribunals up to the circuit court, which had very limited review power…couldn’t really get all the evidence in the case, and it just looked at, really, the record in the case, essentially, and some evidence put in by the lawyers to the extent they could. And it found that this Mr. Parhat, who’s a Uighur from western China picked up in Afghanistan, found that there was not sufficient evidence presented by the government to hold him as a, quote, “enemy combatant,” a remarkable ruling because it was a one-sided hearing: the government could put in whatever they wanted; there was no real chance for a lawyer or defense down in Guantanamo. And so it is a major defeat. And really what I think the US is doing in the case of the Uyghurs..there’s 17 Uyghurs in Guantanamo. And what they were doing is they were sort of doing a favor to China. The Uighurs are sort of pushing a pro-independence line in western China. I think China said, “These people are just terrorists to us.” You know, “Just hold them.”
NKWETA: What happens next, Michael? I mean, this ruling has come down. If I’m not mistaken, there will be an appeal by the military tribunal. This process could drag out. How soon or how not soon will this guy be released if he’s going to be released?
RATNER: Their choices are that they can put together another one of these rump tribunals down in Guantanamo and try and bring in more evidence, but in the meantime the lawyers for Parhat are going to file a writ of habeas corpus now in federal court, pursuant in the new Supreme Court ruling, and ask for his immediate release. So that’s going to put a huge pressure on the government. The problem here is really more extensive than just the question of finding that he’s not an enemy combatant and that he should have never been picked up. The question is: where does he go? He can’t go back to western China, because he’ll probably be tortured by the Chinese in western China. So even the US hasn’t sent back Uighurs to China. What they did is they sent five of them to Albania for asylum. But they now can’t, apparently, get others to be taken by Albania, so we’re sitting with Uighurs in Guantanamo with really nowhere to go. These are like people without a country, where the United States has really put them in an untenable situation, and what really is the obligation of the Bush administration to get them out. They were picked up in Afghanistan, and they were supposedly part of a federation for freedom for east Turkmenistan, which is the Uyghur territory of western China…nothing to do with the United States.
NKWETA: In the light of the ruling that’s come down, how do you see other cases proceeding? I know you can’t lump them all into one category, but is this the beginning of the toppling of Guantanamo Bay?
RATNER: We’ve seen the beginning of the toppling for awhile, and of course the latest blow was the Supreme Court decision in Boumediene, which is one of our Center for Constitutional Rights cases. The latest blow was that, because that allows everybody to file habeas corpus or, you know, put the government to its proof in the lowest courts. This was an alternate procedure to the middle courts, going straight up from Guantanamo. Both procedures are going to be allowed to proceed. I don’t see how the government can sustain Guantanamo. It was set up as, essentially, a law-free zone by them, because they thought they could get away with no court review of anything. Now there’s court review and lawyers all over the place. I just don’t see how Guantanamo can be sustained. I would say this decision coupled with the Supreme Court decision are the death knell for Guantanamo.