Will Gitmo Detainees Enjoy More Rights In Illinois?

December 21, 2009

The Obama administration has finalized plans to begin bringing Guantanamo detainees to Thomson Correctional Center, an unused rural prison in Thomson, Illinois.  This move has been criticized as a political move which throws some pork to Obama’s home state while  doing nothing to improve the situation of the detainees. It is also seen as dangerous in that it invites terrorism on U.S. soil.

The administration’s decision will also create what has been described as a “legal minefield.”  The Center For Constitutional Rights has released a statement attacking the plan, and it’s fair to assume a lawsuit may follow shortly.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that Guantanamo Bay detainees did “have the constitutional right to habeas corpus,” which allowed them to challenge the basis of their detention.  See  Boumediene v. Bush.   The question now is whether moving these detainees to the United States broadens their constitutional protections.

The Boumediene decision may provide some answers.  The court ruled that Guantanamo Bay was “in every practical respect a United States territory.”  If that is the case, an argument can be made that the same habeas rights apply, and nothing more.  One interesting point to consider is that the Boumedine case designated the detainees “enemy combatants.”  In March of this year the Obama administration eliminated the designation “enemy combatants”  for Gitmo detainees.  This could provide the wiggle room needed to broaden detainee’s rights.

Moving the detainees to Illinois will undoubtedly bring new legal claims on their behalf, but the real effect of this move, if any, remains to be seen. Tom Parker, a policy director for Amnesty International, certainly doesn’t see it as a positive development:

“Military Commissions amount to little more than a cynical attempt to create a trial format with a sufficiently low burden of proof that it will admit evidence that could not be used in a real court. The concept of indefinite detention violates one of the most fundamental tenets of American – and international – justice that every defendant has a right to challenge his accusers in court. Both set disastrous precedents… Changing Guantanamo’s zip code does not make indefinite detention any less palatable or military commissions any more legitimate.”

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