Friday, June 13, 2008

Habeas lives!

Habeas Corpus is one of the most basic procedural safeguards in common-law legal systems. Dating back to the middle ages, it allows the courts to examine the legality of someone's detention, and free them if they are unlawfully imprisoned. And the US Supreme Court have just ruled [PDF] that it applies even to prisoners at Guantanamo, and that the efforts of the Bush administration and Congress to deny that right were illegal. It's a tremendous victory for freedom, the rule of law, and sanity in the face of the Bush Administration's lawless "war on terror".

What happens next? Well, obviously some Guantanamo detainees will challenge the legality of their detention. And some of them have a very good case - notably those found by Bush's kangaroo courts not to be "enemy combatants", but still held in 23-hour-a-day lockdown because His Majesty the President does not want to let them go. The Bush Administration will no doubt react strongly to this, and demand Congress passes another law to prevent Guantanamo's victims from being treated fairly according to law, but the Supreme Court has basically said that that won't fly. Absent suspension, any parallel judicial process has to include an "adequate equivalent" of habeas. And any suspension is only effective where a disaster or conflict prevents the civil courts from operating. So, short of Al Qaeda physically attacking Guantanamo and turning it into an actual warzone, rather than a safe place where the US can hold show trials at its leisure, the detainees there have access to the courts. And Bush is just going to have to accept that.