At a Glance
In February 2002, not long after the first men were brought to Guantanamo on January 11, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed the first cases to challenge the unlawful detentions at the base. At the time, no one knew who the men were, only that the public had been told by the Bush administration that they were “worst of the worst.” The only ones willing to share the cases with us were death penalty attorneys, who were used to representing unpopular clients – no other organization was willing to join us. Together, we filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of two British men, Shafik Rasul and Asif Iqbal, and two Australians, David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib.
CCR alleged that it was unlawful to hold our clients indefinitely without a lawful hearing process to determine their status and the legitimacy of their detention. After we had lost in the lower courts, the Supreme Court, over the administration’s opposition, agreed in November, 2003, to hear the case. The Court also agreed to hear a companion case filed on behalf of 12 Kuwaitis being held at Guantanamo, Al Odah v. USA. The Court chose to review the question:
Whether United States courts lack jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.
The issue was whether U.S. courts have the jurisdiction to even hear a habeas petition from those imprisoned at Guantánamo. The bulk of the men at Guantánamo had been held incommunicado since being taken into U.S. custody. Despite regular interrogation by U.S. agents, they had not been charged with an offense, notified of any pending charges, made any appearances before either a military or civilian tribunal, been informed of their rights under domestic or international law, or provided counsel.
In a landmark decision, on June 30, 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that the men did have the right to challenge their detention. From that moment, the base that had been intended as a legal black hole was opened to counsel and, as a result, to the eyes of the world. CCR ensured that every man at Guantanamo had the opportunity to be represented by counsel and organized hundreds of pro bono attorneys from across the country for that purpose. We began to learn that most of the men had done nothing more than be in the wrong place at the wrong time, swept up and sold for substantial bounties to U.S. forces. Finally their stories could be told.
Both Congress and the Bush administration would go on to attempt to limit the rights the Court had recognized, which would lead to a second successful case before the Supreme Court, Boumediene v. Bush.