THERE are still about 300 suspected terrorists being held without charge in Guantanamo Bay by the United States. Many of them have been in this harsh prison for five years or more without knowing what charges have been made against them and on what evidence, and none has been brought to any form of trial. Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States began hearing arguments by lawyers acting for prisoners that they are entitled to the protection of habeas corpus which is the constitutional right of every American citizen. The US solicitor general claims that this right, if it existed, was annulled by the Military Commissions Act passed by Congress four years ago. This Act effectively took away any legal redress for the Guantanamo prisoners. The framers of the American Constitution put strict limits on the right of Congress to change habeas corpus “unless, when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it”. Neither the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor the general War Against Terrorism, can be considered rebellion or invasion. An earlier US government claim that the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was not part of the United States and therefore not subject to US legal principles, has already been rejected by the Supreme Court. Hopefully the Court will find that the Guantanamo prisoners are entitled to due process. Its decision is not expected until June next year.


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