A U.S. Supreme Court justice on Monday raised questions about the scope of the government’s authority to detain terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, offering a glimmer of hope to those held for years without charge.
The high court refused to hear the appeal of a Yemeni man held for 12 years at the U.S. military prison in Cuba, letting stand a lower court ruling that he could be detained simply because he was found to be “part of al-Qaeda or the Taliban at the time of his apprehension.”
Progressive Justice Stephen Breyer, while concurring with that decision, issued a statement outlining several areas which the court has yet to address regarding the government’s detention authority.
Breyer said the court had not looked on whether the U.S. military could hold someone who was not “engaged in an armed conflict against the United States’ in Afghanistan prior to his capture” — even if that person was a member of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
He also said that even if such detention was permissible, the court also had not weighed in on whether the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed in September 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, or the Constitution “limits the duration of detention.”
Breyer explained that the AUMF allows the U.S. president to “use all necessary and appropriate force” against those deemed to have helped carry out the attacks “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
In 2004, the Supreme Court confirmed that the AUMF was constitutional and allowed the president to detain “enemy combatants” provided the individual “was part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners in Afghanistan and who engaged in an armed conflict against the United States there.”
But Breyer’s statement indicated that he could be ready to hear an appeal on the basis of the gray areas he outlined that have not yet been addressed by the court.
Abdul al-Qader Hussain, 30, was captured in March 2002 in Pakistan on suspicion of links to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network and the Taliban — claims he has repeatedly denied.
In their brief, Hussain’s lawyers had asked the high court only to assess the “level of proof” the government needed to show to justify his detention — not the legal issues Breyer mentioned in his statement.
Hussain had contested the fact that the lower courts confirmed his “indefinite detention” based on his travels in Afghanistan as a teenager, time spent in certain mosques and his possession of a rifle.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]