In a Historic Decision, the U.S. Supreme Court Rules that the Guantánamo War Crimes Trials Are Illegal

30/06/2006
Press release
USA
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FIDH and CCR acclaim Thursday, June 29, 2006 tremendously significant decision of the Supreme Court ruling that U.S. President George W. Bush overstepped his powers in ordering the establishment of military commissions to try detainees held at Guantánamo.

The Supreme Court Justices issued a historic decision, with a majority of 5 against 3, saying that they "conclude that the military commission convened to try Hamdan lacks power to proceed because its structure and procedures violate both the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and the Geneva Conventions. Four of us also conclude, see Part V, infra, that the offense with which Hamdan has been charged is not an "offens[e] that by ... the law of war may be tried by military commissions."" In a military order issued on November 3, 2001, President Bush authorized special tribunals (the so-called "military commissions") to be held to prosecute suspected authors of violations of the laws of war by conspiring to commit acts of terrorism against the United States. Yesterday’s decision renders them illegal.

The Supreme Court further agreed that the Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions should not be ignored in the conflict against Al-Qaeda and stated that "The phrase "all the guarantees ... recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples" in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is not defined, but it must be understood to incorporate at least the barest of the trial protections recognized by customary international law."

Mr. Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni detainee designated by President Bush to be tried before a "military commission" in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had filed a lawsuit challenging the President’s authority to establish such military commissions in the absence of specific congressional action and the military’s authority to try him in violation of the Geneva Conventions. After Mr. Hamdan’s claims were rejected on appeal last July 2005, the United States Supreme Court agreed to review the appellate decision, and it overturned it on Thursday, June 29, 2006.

In support of Mr. Hamdan, CCR, FIDH and Human Rights Watch filed together an amicus brief (friend of the court) in January 2006, stressing that "The detention and military commission systems created by the Executive to hold and try persons seized in the "war on terror" and implemented at the United States Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba violate the well-established norms of international humanitarian law embodied in binding treaties and customary international law."

This decision today affirms the human rights groups opinions stated in the brief and is a sweeping defeat for the Bush Administration.

CCR "declared the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld as a significant victory for the Constitution, fairness and due process, vindicating the Center’s five-year legal fight for due process and human rights against the Bush Administration’s illegal detention policies."

"The next step now is to ensure that people detained in other detention centers by the United States, such as in Baghram, Afghanistan, or in secret detention centers, are equally offered protection under the Geneva Conventions and are treated humanely, in accordance to Common Article 3," said Sidiki Kaba, FIDH President.

FIDH and CCR repeat their call for the closure of Guantánamo, where hundreds of men are still being held at, and ask the Bush Administration to either release detainees when they have not been charged with any crime, or to try them before an independent and impartial tribunal.

CCR President Michael Ratner concludes: "The Supreme Court has firmly rejected President Bush’s attempt to sidestep American courts. Now the President must act: try our clients in lawful U.S. courts or release them. The game is up. There is no way for President Bush to continue hiding behind a purported lack of judicial guidance to avoid addressing the illegal and immoral prison in Guantánamo Bay."

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