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Will Prisoners’ Move to Thompson Expand Their Legal Rights?

Among the objections from Congressional Republicans to transferring Guantanamo detainees from Cuba to Illinois is the fear that the prisoners will suddenly have many more rights by virtue of being on U.S. soil.

But is that true?

Actually, it’s not clear, Scott Silliman, a professor at Duke University Law School and director of the Center for Law, Ethics, and National Security, tells Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor. After all, “we’ve never done this before,” says Silliman.

It’s not even clear what “this” is.

Is the administration going to move all of the men to military custody, or will some be moved to federal civilian custody for trial in a civilian court? The government hasn’t yet said. And will some people be held in military custody indefinitely without trial? The administration hasn’t said that yet, either. So to some extent, the speculation is premature.

What Richey does make clear in his story, however, is that there are some rights that the government will be hard-pressed to argue don’t apply to prisoners on U.S. soil, even if they may not have applied to them at Guantanamo Bay. Those include the Fifth-Amendment right to due process of law, for example, which the government argues doesn’t apply in Cuba. As I’ve explained before, however, what rights the detainees have at the prison in Cuba has never really been decided.

Some defense lawyers even worry, as Richey reports, that their clients will get worse treatment in a beyond-Supermax facility in Illinois than they do at Guantanamo, where the international focus on previous mistreatment has forced improvements.

The fears of Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans notwithstanding, exactly what rights any military detainee in Illinois is going to get will depend a whole lot on the status the government gives them when they’re transferred. And for now, the Obama administration hasn’t yet told us what that will be.

View the details of all Guantanamo detainees’ habeas corpus cases at TWI’s Gitmo Habeas Scoreboard.

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