May 21st, 2010
07:49 PM ET

Court: Detainees held by U.S. in Afghanistan can't appeal their detention

A federal appeals court in Washington ruled Friday that detainees held by the U.S. in Afghanistan are not entitled to the same right as prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to challenge their indefinite detention.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled unanimously that prisoners held at a military prison at Bagram Air Base are in a "theater of war" and not under the jurisdiction of the U.S. civilian courts.

The judges also found an important distinction between prisoners held at Guantanamo and those held at Bagram, declaring that "the surrounding circumstances are hardly the same."

"The U.S. has maintained total control over Guantanamo for over a century. ... In Bagram, there is no indication of any intent to occupy the base with permanence," the judges said.

The ruling was promptly hailed by Republican lawmakers who backed the Obama administration's continuation of Bush administration policy on the issue.

"This is a big win," declared Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.

Graham, a prominent voice on the detainee issue, said that a decision in favor of the detainees "would have dealt a severe blow to our war effort." Graham praised President Obama for "standing firm and opposing the lower court ruling."

The top House Republican overseeing the Justice Department, Lamar Smith of Texas, also offered a compliment to the White House.

"The Obama administration rightly appealed the lower court decision, adhering to the Bush administration's position that enemy combatant detainees held by the U.S. military in foreign war zones are not entitled to the same rights and freedoms as U.S. citizens," Smith said.

The ruling written by Judge David Sentelle overturns a decision by a U.S. District Court judge that the detainees were entitled to U.S. court review.

The decision drew the condemnation of civil liberties and human rights groups.

"Today's decision ratifies the dangerous principle that the U.S. government has unchecked power to capture people anywhere in the world, unilaterally declare them enemy combatants and subject them to indefinite military detention with no judicial review and little to no process for challenging their detention in any forum," said Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Appeals Court, however, may not have the last word. Attorneys for the two Yemenis and one Tunisian who brought the suit have indicated that they are likely to appeal the ruling to the full Circuit Court or to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 that Guantanamo Bay detainees are entitled to have their continued imprisonment reviewed by federal judges, paved the way for judges to order the release of several of them.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Chloe at WGBH

    See how our panelists weigh in!

    In celebration of Memorial Day, PBS’s Basic Black will be reflecting on President Obama’s career as Commander-in-Chief. Topics we will be discussing tonight include Guantanamo Bay and the tribunals for its detainees; Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Join us TONIGHT at 7:30 pm EST LIVE at or on channel 2 in Boston. You can also participate in a live chat at starting at 7:20 pm.

    May 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Steve

    Does the name Abdul Qayyem Zakir ring a bell to any of you? We had this guy in custody, and let him go. Now he's a top Taliban commander, directing terrorists to plant bombs/stage suicide attacks that kill troops and civilians alike. And all you people sit here and whine about "torture" and imprisonment. This is WAR, and this is what happens. If you were a soldier and you were captured by the Taliban, what they would do would be FAR worse than anything that has ever happened at Bagrham prison or Guantanamo or anywhere like that.

    Some of you people (onesmallvoice, Roy, and others) will sit here and complain about everything in the world that NATO/US troops do. Yet, you don't ever mention all the horrible things that the Taliban does. You forget to mention that the majority of civilian casualties are caused by the Taliban. You forget to mention that the Taliban WILL PUT CIVILIANS IN THE LINE OF FIRE just so they can get killed, so idiots like you few will say "OMG NATO IS TERRIBLE THEY KILLED CIVILIANS." I swear you live in some kind of 4th dimension world that others can't see. Others can't see it because it's not REAL.

    May 26, 2010 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  3. Roy

    The ruling was promptly hailed by Republican lawmakers who backed the Obama administration's continuation of Bush administration policy of TORTURE, WATERBOARDING, RENDITIONS and VIOLATION OF BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS. So what has changed Mr Obama, you are just Bush in Obama clothing!!!

    May 24, 2010 at 3:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel-2

      I agree with you since Barack Obama has made it painfully clear just how little he values the lives of others.

      May 24, 2010 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |
  4. Sub

    Thats funny the ones in bagram are not being tortured..... Those days are long gone havent you ever heard of ICRC.... If not do some research until then research what you post first....

    May 22, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Daniel

    This is not right.These prisoners should at the very least be granted P.O.W. status and not be tortured.This is what makes this country look bad and I find it quite repulsive.

    May 21, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerry

      Which country are you talking about are you still in Dubai?

      May 22, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hala

      Um POW status implies some level of compliance to the Geneva Convention. Can you explain to me how being beheaded by the Taliban fits into that scheme?

      May 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Teresa

      My husband is currently serving in Afghanistan and is working in the Bagram prison with the detainees. These detainees are not being tortured. There are seven rules, both for our servicemen and for the detainees. One of which is either side can in no way touch/lay hands on each other except for handcuffing, leg irons, or escorting detainees. Our servicemen while abiding by these rules are the ones tortured when the detainees throw feces, urine or worse on our men. The detainees are currently receiving the best medical care that one could offer and have never had such expert care. They are receiving showers, in which they have never had; much less seen a shower and the detainees are still not grateful. My husband can not even walk outside the perimeter of his tent due to children throwing rocks at him and other soldiers there to help the Afghan people. What this boils down to is some of us that make such remarks on detainee abuse should understand and be educated on what is really going on behind those prison concrete walls and not join the bandwagon and make uneducated guesses.

      May 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |