Three years ago, a federal judge in Washington announced that prisoners held in U.S. custody at an air base in Afghanistan could use federal courts to challenge their detention. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck the decision.
The judge, John Bates of Washington federal district court, today rejected renewed legal challenges, saying that the amended petitions from the government-declared enemy combatants do not undercut the foundation of the appellate court ruling. The judge's ruling is here.
Prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay naval facility can use federal trial courts to seek their freedom. The D.C. Circuit, however, distinguished Guantanamo from the Bagram airfield in Afghanistan. The appeals court, Bates wrote today, found "critical problems with allowing detainees at such a site" to bring petitions seeking their release.
Lawyers for three Bagram detainees said in their renewed petitions that the United States does not intend to remain at Bagram indefinitely and that the Afghan government wants foreign detainees removed from the facility.
"At the time this case was argued in the court of appeals, it would have been reasonable to wonder how committed the United States was to its amorphous goal of eventually ceding custody of detainees to another government," Bates said today. "That the United States has now transferred custody of numerous detainees to the Afghan government, however, demonstrates the sincerity of those representations."
Bates said the fact the Afghan government can conduct criminal trials in that country "does not necessarily prove that a court in the United States could oversee litigation centered at Bagram or in the United States."
The judge criticized the scope of the petitioners’ evidence that the United States has manipulated detention to keep certain prisoners out of Guantanamo.
“The first problem with petitioners' argument is that most of the cited material is not new at all,” Bates said. “Much of it, including the most convincing pieces of evidence, was publicly available even before this Court issued its initial opinion in this case.”
The “manipulation theory,” Bates said, citing the D.C. Circuit discussion at oral argument, would create “worldwide habeas jurisdiction.”
“Given these clear indications that the court of appeals was skeptical of any theory that would create universal jurisdiction, this court cannot adopt petitioners' theory and its far-reaching implications,” Bates said.