WASHINGTON – Attorneys representing hundreds of Guantanamo Bay detainees urged a federal appeals court Monday to reject a Bush administration request for more legal filings in light of last week's Supreme Court ruling in the case of Usama bin Laden's driver.
The detainees' lawyers said a three-judge panel already has had three rounds of legal filings and does not need more briefing to decide the fate of lawsuits that challenge the legality of the prisoners' detentions.
Solicitor General Paul Clement asked the panel for the opportunity to explain how the administration views the high court's decision immediately after justices ruled last Thursday in the case of bin Laden's driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan.
The attorneys for the detainees said the Hamdan decision "speaks with perfect clarity" and said that granting the administration's request for more filing time "would cause further unwarranted delay ... seriously prejudicing the Guantanamo detainees," most of whom "languish in their fifth year of imprisonment without being charged with any wrongdoing."
Last week, the Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, rebuked President Bush, ruling that his plan to hold criminal trials before military tribunals for some of the Guantanamo detainees violates U.S. and international law.
In a significant part of the ruling, justices also said a law passed by Congress late last year to limit lawsuits filed by Guantanamo detainees does not apply to pending cases like Hamdan's. By the time the law was passed in December, civil cases had been filed on behalf of hundreds of detainees.
In 2004, the Supreme Court said detainees can challenge the legality of their detentions. Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act to limit those lawsuits and to set up a process for detainees to challenge their designations as "enemy combatants."
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has heard arguments twice — in September 2005 and in March — in appeals filed both by the government and on behalf of the detainees challenging conflicting rulings by trial judges on whether the lawsuits can proceed.