Hearings for terrorism suspects before US military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay are going ahead despite a Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the detainees have a right to challenge their detention in a civilian court.
Legal experts had described the high court’s decision as the death knell of the special tribunals created by President George W Bush and his Republican allies in Congress to try “war on terror” suspects.
But Justice Department chief Michael Mukasey said the controversial tribunals at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would continue their work and last week, two preliminary hearings were held as scheduled.
The hearings focused on Omar Khadr and Mohammed Jawad, a Canadian and Afghan both detained in Afghanistan for having allegedly thrown grenades when they were still teenagers.
The new judge overseeing the Canadian’s case, Colonel Patrick Parrish, who replaced another military judge who was forced to step down, announced that the trial for Khadr would start on October 8.
Jawad reportedly used his hearing to denounce his treatment, alleging during a two-week period US guards changed his cell every two hours to prevent him from sleeping, a technique dubbed the “frequent flyer program.”
Meanwhile a three-judge panel in federal court on Friday declined to intervene in the Khadr case in an appeal that focused on a procedural dispute.
The decision though does not preclude federal judges from wading directly into the tribunal trials in Guantanamo in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling, which rejected the government’s assertion that the detainees lack habeas corpus rights.
The US Court of Appeals for the US capital on Monday ruled that Chinese prisoner Huzaifa Parhat, of the Chinese Muslim Uighur minority, is not an enemy combatant and has the right to seek his release from custody at Guantanamo.
Parhat’s release, however, was not expected any time soon since the appeals court said the Pentagon could hold a new tribunal on his status, which observers deemed likely.
Details of the decision were not immediately available because it involved classified information, according to the appeals court statement.
‘More to come’
Although no trial has begun in earnest at the Guantanamo naval base, 19 detainees have been charged and “there will be more coming in the not too distant future,” said Joe DellaVedova of the office of military commissions.
“The military commissions process continues to move forward, in a fair, open and transparent manner,” he said.
Among those already charged are several suspects who allegedly planned the September 11 attacks, as well as Al Qaeda militants accused of having fired rockets in the vicinity of US troops in Afghanistan or having undergone training in the use of explosives.
The first tribunal trial is scheduled to start on July 21 in a newly set up “portable” courtroom to try Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
The judge in the case, Captain Keith Allred, has scheduled a hearing for July 14 that will likely offer a chance to assess the consequences of the landmark Supreme Court ruling for the tribunals.
The fallout from the high court’s ruling is still unclear.
The justices concluded that the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, officially on Cuban territory, can be treated as US territory where rights enshrined in the US Constitution must be respected.
But it remains an open question if inmates enjoy all rights named in the constitution or only certain fundamental rights.