Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Detainee's Five-Year Delay Does not Violate Right to Speedy Trial

Judge Lewis Kaplan (S.D.N.Y.) ruled yesterday that former Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani's five-year period of custody with the CIA and Department of Defense before presentation for trial in federal court did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.  The ruling, unless overturned on appeal, means that Ghailani's criminal case in the Southern District can move forward.

But it would be a mistake to read the decision as paving the path to civilian trials for all Guantanamo detainees.

Judge Kaplan's "functional" analysis carefully balanced the four factors that the Supreme Court enumerated for speedy trial claims in Barker v. Wingo:

(1) the length of the delay

(2) the reason for the delay

(3) the defendant's assertion of the right, and

(4) prejudice to the defendant.

Op. at 20.  More than any other single factor, though, Judge Kaplan's decision turned on the reason for the government's detention.  He wrote that the CIA detained Ghailani for two years for legitimate intelligence-gathering purposes related to national security--detention that could not be counted against the government for speedy-trial purposes, notwithstanding Ghailani's allegations of abuse during this period. 

Judge Kaplan was less generous to the government with regard to Ghailani's detention at Guantanamo, however.  He wrote that the government's reasons for detention at Guantanamo--its prosecution of Ghailani's Combat Status Review Tribunal and its preparation of his military commission case (which never transpired)--"weigh[ed] against the government."  The government's third basis for detention at Guantanamo--to keep Ghailani, which the CSRT determined to be an "enemy combatant," off the battlefield--weighed less against the government for the purpose of the speedy trial guarantee, but the government was nevertheless "responsible for the delay caused by that decision."  Op. at 37.  (Judge Kaplan noted that the government could have held Ghailani anywhere--including in the Metropolitan Correctional Center for the Southern District while prosecuting its case in civilian court, as it had with others--and served this same purpose.)

While Judge Kaplan ruled that the balance of the Barker factors weighed against Ghailani's speedy-trial claim, this says little about other detainees' cases.  The larger lesson of the opinion is that the specific facts matter under Barker's functional, case-specific approach.  And according to Judge Kaplan, detention at Guantanamo Bay, for any reason that the government keeps detainees there, may weigh against the government in determining whether a detainee transferred to the civilian courts was denied a speedy trial.



Executive Authority, Fundamental Rights, Recent Cases, War Powers | Permalink

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