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Federal Court Rules Bagram Detainees Have Rights, Too

In a groundbreaking ruling today that directly contradicts the Bush and Obama administration’s insistence that detainees held by the U.S. government at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan have no right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts, a federal judge ruled on Thursday that in fact, they do.

U.S. District Court Judge John Bates ruled that the four men — all foreign nationals captured by U.S. forces outside Afghanistan and sent there to be incarcerated at a prison on the U.S.-run Bagram air base — have the same rights as prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, who were similarly sent there by U.S. forces from other countries.

As I’ve written before, the Bagram prison — which is fast turning into Obama’s Gitmo — has many of the same attributes as the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. That’s just what the lawyers for the four detainees there argued. Although the Obama administration had, like the Bush administration before it, argued forcefully that Bagram detainees have no constitutional rights and therefore no rights to challenge their detention in U.S. courts, Bates — a conservative judge appointed by former President George W. Bush — today disagreed.

“The writ of habeas corpus plays a central role in our constitutional system as conceived by the Framers,” wrote Judge Bates. “Indeed, ‘the Framers deemed the writ to be an essential mechanism in the separation-of-powers scheme,’ ” he wrote, quoting the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which gave Guantanamo detainees habeas corpus rights, “that, as Alexander Hamilton observed, was vital to the protection of individuals against the very same arbitrary exercise of the government’s power to detain that is alleged by petitioners here.”

Although all four of the detainees in the case were captured outside Afghanistan and have been held at Bagram for more than six years, Bates ruled that one of the men, who is an Afghan citizen, may not be entitled to habeas corpus review because of the “practical obstacles in the form of friction with the host country.” He ordered the lawyers to file additional briefs with the court addressing those issues.

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