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Supreme Court condemns Guantanamo

In a severe blow to the Bush administration the US Supreme Court ruled that suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay have rights under the US Constitution to challenge their detention in civilian courts. Ruling 5 to 4 the court concluded that the US government was violating the rights of prisoners being held indefinitely at the US naval base in Cuba. The ruling could resurrect detainee lawsuits that federal judges in Washington postponed, pending the outcome of the high court case. It remains unclear if this ruling, unlike the first two, would lead to prompt hearings for the detainees, some of whom have been held for more than 6 years.

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Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER (VOICEOVER): The Bush administration was dealt a severe blow on Tuesday. The US Supreme Court ruled that suspects being held in Guantanamo Bay have rights under the US Constitution to challenge their detention in civilian courts. Ruling five to four, the court concluded that the US government is violating the rights of prisoners being held indefinitely and without charges at the US naval base in Cuba. It remains unclear that this ruling, unlike the first two, will lead to prompt hearings for the detainees, some of whom have been held for almost six years. Roughly 270 men remain at the island prison, classified as enemy combatants and held on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

GEORGE W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: And we’ll abide by the court’s decision. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. It was a deeply divided court. And I strongly agree with those who dissented.

NKWETA: While Bush strongly disagreed with the ruling, others hailed it as a success.

VIRGINIA SLOAN, CONSTITUTION PROJECT PRESIDENT: It’s a tremendous victory for them to be able to contest the legality of their detention. It’s also a tremendous victory for our system of checks and balances, which says that the executive cannot unilaterally make these kinds of decisions, that the executive branch needs to bring in both Congress and the courts.

MICHAEL RATNER, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: I had tears in my eyes. I just think it’s the most critical decision we’ve won in years, and hopefully begins to end, really, the excesses of the so-called war on terror of this administration.

NKWETA: The ruling could resurrect many detainee lawsuits that many federal judges in Washington put on hold pending the outcome of the high court case.

RATNER: I think the high majority of people at Guantanamo will be be freed because the government just does not have the evidence to hold them.

NKWETA: In addition to the court affirming that detainees have rights under the US Constitution, it also criticized the system the administration has put in place as inadequate.

SLOAN: Both presidential candidates are on record as closing Guantanamo. One way or the other, we need to bring due process to these people at Guantanamo. And the Supreme Court made it very clear today that one of the underlying reasons for its decision was that these people had been there for six years without any access to any process.

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