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Federal Court Ruling Expands Rights of Gitmo Detainees to Evidence

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled today — four years after it was asked — that Guantanamo Bay prisoners have more rights to information about why they’ve been imprisoned without charge than the Bush administration had contended. SCOTUSblog has an in-depth analysis of the court’s decision, and a link to the document.

Lawyers for habeas petitioners are pleased to hear that the federal court, and not just the Pentagon and Department of Justice, has a role to play in determining what information about their clients they’re allowed to see. But the fact that it took four years to get that ruling, which only kicks the case back to the district court for further determinations on each separate habeas corpus case, suggests there will be months more legal wrangling to come before the lawyers ever even get to see the documents.

In the meantime, their clients, who have been imprisoned at Gitmo for up to seven years with no right to see the evidence against them, let alone to meaningfully challenge their detention, will have to wait even longer.

Today’s decision ruled that it’s up to the district court to decide whether the lawyers are entitled to see the information they’re asking for, based in part on how important it is to their case, explained David Remes, legal director of Appeal for Justice, who represents a group of habeas petitioners and argued this case to the court. That’s at least better than leaving it completely up to the government. Many of the documents the Justice Department provided to the lawyers so far in these habeas corpus cases has been so heavily redacted that they’re meaningless.

“So the decision is pretty favorable to us,” Remes said. “But coming four years after the fact, it dooms us to at least a couple more months of litigation. At the end of the day, it’s a testament to the success of the Bush Justice Department’s stall and delay tactics that we had to wait four years. We can only hope that the Obama justice department will abandon these hardball tactics and move the litigation forward without fighting us on everything.”

Remes said that so far, he hasn’t received any indication from the Obama administration about whether it will be more willing than its predecessor to turn over the information.

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