Bates on Bagram: Habeas Applies Everywhere
When Federal District Court Judge John D. Bates held that certain prisoners the US is holding in Bagram, Afghanistan are entitled to habeas corpus, part of the reasoning was that these particular cases could not be distinguished from those at Guantanamo, to whom the US Supreme Court applied the right.
In 53-page ruling, Judge John D. Bates of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia said that three detainees at the United States Air Force base at Bagram are “virtually identical” to detainees at the Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and so they have the same legal rights that the Supreme Court last year granted prisoners held there.
All three detainees are non-Afghan citizens who said they were captured outside Afghanistan and have been imprisoned for years without trials. Arguing that they are not enemy combatants, the detainees want a judge to review the evidence against them and order their release under the right known as “habeas corpus.”
But I don’t think that’s what’s driving the ruling. The ruling is really telling us something the Obama Administration should have known already: the moral principles underlying habeas corpus apply everywhere. Governments have no right to arrest and hold any humans indefinitely without charges and an opportunity to challenge the basis of their detention. What part of this principle does our Justice Department not understand?
So how did US Attorney General Holder and the Obama Administration get itself in the untenable position of claiming it’s lawful for the US Government to hold someone without these basic legal principles? To be sure, one could pretend that the US Supreme Court’s holding regarding Guantanamo was peculiar to Gitmo’s history and status. But that decision would not likely have been rendered unless even that partisan, conservative court did not feel deeply that indefinite detention without charges or trial was fundamentally unprincipled and beneath the dignity of a lawful nation.
It doesn’t take a Constitutional lawyer to understand that there was something deeply wrong about what we were doing at Gitmo, and that its disturbing lawlessness had nothing to do with Gitmo’s geography or history. It was just wrong, and anyone with an ounce of decency and sense of fair play knew it. And if it was wrong for Gitmo, then it was wrong for Bagram and wrong for Abu Ghraib.
Our Justice Department is struggling to regain the confidence and respect it lost through eight years of egregious misconduct and lawlessness. But yesterday’s decision is a reminder that it still has a ways to go.