A federal appeals court ruled Thursday for the first time that prisoners held at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba should have access to lawyers and the American court system.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2-1 decision was a rebuke to the Bush administration.
The administration maintains that because the 660 men held there were picked up overseas on suspicion of terrorism and are being held on foreign land, they may be detained indefinitely without charges or trial.
The Supreme Court last month agreed to decide whether the detainees, picked up in Afghanistan and Pakistan, should have access to the courts. The justices agreed to hear that case after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the prisoners had no rights to the American legal system.
The San Francisco appeals court, ruling Thursday on a petition from a relative of a Libyan the U.S. military captured in Afghanistan said the Bush administration’s indefinite detention of the men runs contrary to American ideals.
“Even in times of national emergency — indeed, particularly in such times — it is the obligation of the Judicial Branch to ensure the preservation of our constitutional values and to prevent the Executive Branch from running roughshod over the rights of citizens and aliens alike,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the majority.
“We cannot simply accept the government’s position,” Reinhardt continued, “that the Executive Branch possesses the unchecked authority to imprison indefinitely any persons, foreign citizens included, on territory under the sole jurisdiction and control of the United States, without permitting such prisoners recourse of any kind to any judicial forum, or even access to counsel, regardless of the length or manner of their confinement.