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Court rubberstamps indefinite imprisonment in Guantanamo and the use of torture against an American citizen

The Supreme Court today declined to hear arguments on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees seeking release under the habeas corpus doctrine, and on behalf of an American citizen seeking nominal damages for torture he suffered at the hands of the U.S. government. The Court’s denial of cert means that the U.S. government can indefinitely hold detainees even when there have been no formal charges brought against them.

Another of today’s cert denials impedes an American citizen from bringing suit against high-profile Pentagon officials for authorizing years of torture committed on American soil.

Four years ago tomorrow, in Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court held that detainees can challenge their confinement in Guantanamo Bay as a violation of habeas corpus if the government has not identified the charges against them. Yet today, the Court refused to entertain the detainees’ claims that the consistent denial of habeas corpus petitions by the conservative D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals defies the Supreme Court's precedent in Boumediene.

The D.C. Circuit has never ruled in a detainee’s favor and has explicitly criticized the Boumediene majority, seeming to pay greater heed to the dissents by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia. Bush II appointee Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote in Latif v. Obama, one of the cases at issue in today’s order, that “Boumediene’s airy suppositions have caused great difficulty for the executive and the courts,” and that the decision has “fundamentally altered the calculus of war, guaranteeing that the benefit of intelligence that might be gained — even from high-value detainees — is outweighed by the systemic cost of defending detention decisions.” Brown’s opinion places murky and unsubstantiated government accusations above fundamental habeas corpus rights.

One of the most notable appeals denied today arises from Brown’s infuriating decision in Latif. In that case, the district court granted the habeas corpus petition of Yemeni citizen Adnan Latif, who has been held in Guantanamo since 2002. The circuit court reversed the district court’s decision, because government reports stated that Latif was seeking military training from Al-Qaeda, even though Latif had documented proof that he was seeking medical treatment and religious training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The circuit court’s decision makes it almost impossible for a detainee to be released, by holding that the burden of proof rests upon the detainee to prove that the government’s intelligence is flawed.

In a vigorous dissent, Judge David S. Tatel contended that relying on the government’s unsupported accounts overwhelmingly tips the balance of justice in the government’s favor and allows appeals courts to reject the factual findings of a district court too easily.

Another notable appeal rejected today comes from American citizen Jose Padilla. Padilla sued for nominal damages of $1 against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other government officials, after being tortured for years in a military prison near Charleston, South Carolina. Padilla, born in Brooklyn, claims that he was shackled in stress positions, was injected with “truth serums,” was subjected to sleep deprivation, and was threatened with death. The Supreme Court declined to hear Padilla’s appeal of the lower court’s dismissal of his claims.

That none of the nine justices dissented to the denial of cert for any of the seven Guantanamo cases signals that the notoriously conservative D.C. Circuit Court is now the court of last resort for Guantanamo detainees. Leaving the detainees’ fate in the D.C. Circuit’s hands is tantamount to allowing the government to detain foreign nationals indefinitely without ever formally charging them or bringing them before a court.

Just as distressingly, by declining to hear the appeals, the Supreme Court is also allowing a rogue lower court to flagrantly ignore its precedent when it finds it to be too “airy.”

By allowing the Padilla decision to stand, the Court is helping to shield government officials from disturbing accusations of torture and rubberstamping its continued use. It is especially troubling that an American citizen can be tortured by Americans, on American soil, and have no recourse in American courts.