For Immediate Release
Thursday, December 8, 2005
Jonathan Hafetz, 212 998–6289
Aziz Huq, 212 992–8632
Retired Federal Judges Urge Congress Not to Pass Court-Stripping Measure that Would Deny Rights in War on Terror
New York, NY A group of retired federal judges urged lawmakers not to strip federal courts of the power to hear habeas corpus pleas from prisoners detained at the Guantnamo Naval Base. In a letter sent to Congress yesterday, they warned that this proposal would undermine the rule of law and constitutional tradition. The Brennan Center for Justice helped coordinate the judges efforts.
Passed with little debate and after no hearings in November, the provision, known as the Graham-Levin-Kyl Amendment, jeopardizes ongoing court review over individuals imprisoned for years without charges and over pending war crimes trials. As the judges note, the congressional action was especially troubling given that the Supreme Court had already accepted for review a case challenging those trials. The measure also threatens to overturn an existing Supreme Court decision from last year that decisively rejected the governments attempt to make Guantnamo a prison beyond the law. If there are frivolous pleas by the detainees, judges are well equipped to throw them out, the jurists note.
The judges write, In cases of executive detention, district court review of habeas petition is central to fulfilling the Great Writs historic purpose: to ensure that individuals are not unlawfully detained. Eliminating that critical district court function would jeopardize the Judiciarys ability to ensure that detention decisions by the federal executive are not grounded on torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The letter was signed by retired Judges John J. Gibbons, Shirley M. Hufstedler, Nathaniel R. Jones, Timothy K. Lewis, John S. Martin, Jr., Abner J. Mikva, William A. Norris, Layn R. Phillips, George C. Pratt, H. Lee Sarokin, Abraham D. Sofaer, and Patricia M. Wald.
For a hard copy of the letter and a list of signatories, please contact Natalia Kennedy at 212–998–6736. Click here to read the electronic version.