Monday, July 15, 2013
Judge Royce C. Lamberth (D.D.C.) ruled last week in In re Guantanamo Bay Detainee Litigation that Joint Detention Group, or JDG, restrictions on Guantanamo detainees' access to counsel violated the detainees' right to habeas proceedings in federal court. The ruling was the second last week that invoked an increasingly personal challenge to President Obama and his policies on detention at Guantanamo Bay. We posted on the other case, involving forced-feeding, here.
The court struck new and invasive search protocol for detainees before and after they meet with counsel; restrictions on the locations within the facility where certain detainees can meet with counsel; and even the new vans that guards use to transport detainees to meetings with counsel. (The new vans are designed such that detainees have to sit in stress positions while traveling to their meetings with their attorneys.) The court struck the restrictions under Turner v. Safley (1987), which set out factors to balance the interests in prison administration against the prisoners' fundamental rights. In short, the court held that the restrictions had no "valid, rational connection" to the legitimate government interest of security, and that the government could serve that interest in other ways without unduly affecting the prison.
The case is notable for its close oversight of the conditions at Guantanamo that interfere with the detainees' access to their attorneys, and thus their access to habeas. It's also notable for the courts increasingly personal appeals to, and critiques of, President Obama, his announced policies, and the way those policies play on the ground. Judge Lamberth started the opinion with this:
On May 23, 2013, President Obama promised, concerning detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, that "[w]here appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and our military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee." This matter concerns whether the President's insistence on judicial review may be squared with the actions of his commanders in charge of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Currently, it cannot.