The Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a Guantanamo Bay detainee held for 17 years without charge, even though a member of the same court said it was possible the detainee risked spending the rest of his life behind bars.
Lawyers for Yemeni citizen Moath Hamza Ahmed Al-Alwi, 42, had urged the court to consider his case and examine whether laws passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks were sufficient to detain a prisoner for so long without charging them. They said the government itself has shown no evidence Alwi was involved in either the Al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11, or fought with the Taliban against US troops in Afghanistan.
On Monday, the court rejected the lawyers’ request. However, one of the justices, Stephen Breyer, one of the court’s four liberal justices, wrote to say he and his colleagues may soon have to reconsider.
“Some 17 years have elapsed since petitioner Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, a Yemeni national, was first held at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” he said, saying the court had previously ruled prisoners could be held for as long as the US was militarily engaged against the Taliban and Al-Qeada.
“The government represents that such hostilities are ongoing, but does not state that any end is in sight. As a consequence, Al-Alwi faces the real prospect that he will spend the rest of his life in detention based on his status as an enemy combatant a generation ago.”
An act – known as the Authorization for use of Military Force against Terrorists (AUMF) – was passed by Congress and signed into law by George W Bush on September 18, just a week after around 3,000 people were killed in the attacks in New York and Washington.
It gave the president broad powers to pursue his so-called war on terror, and establish the prison camp on Guantanamo Bay, a US military based leased from Cuba and which Mr Bush argued was outside of the US judicial system. Of the hundreds of prisoners held at the camp, today just 40 remain, though Donald Trump has said he wants to expand its use. Each costs the taxpayer around $10m a year.
Efforts to press the court to consider Alwi’s case come as authorities last month released from custody John Walker Lindh, an American citizen dubbed the American Taliban, who was jailed for 20 years in 2002 for conspiring to kill Americans after converting to Islam and joining the Taliban.
Those representing Alwi said there was no logical or legal rationale for keeping him jailed.
“This has nothing to do with security. Moath is a victim of geopolitical and domestic politics,” said Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, who represents Alwi along with a team of students from the immigrant and non-citizen rights clinic.
“Both the US government and the courts accept that he has never raised a hand against America. If his passport didn’t say Yemen on its cover, if he were from a different, more important country, he would probably be home today.”
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He told The Independent: “This administration and the two previous ones have kept the camp open for political reasons unrelated to sound policy. Today, keeping the prison open pleases Trump’s base. So, from that point of view, Guantanamo pays.”
Others also denounced the move.
“In refusing to hear the case of a man held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, the US Supreme Court has shirked its responsibility to hold the Trump administration to account for its unconstitutional policies,” said Katie Taylor, deputy director of Reprieve, a group that has represented many prisoners.
“The Senate has documented Guantanamo’s torture history but the judiciary refuses to question the outrageous policy of never-ending detention without charge or trial.”