WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday refused to reconsider challenges by Guantanamo Bay prisoners against their years-long detention at the U.S. military base in Cuba, an issue that prompted a landmark ruling four years ago.
The high court sided with the Obama administration and rejected appeals by seven detainees who lost their bid for freedom in cases before U.S. federal judges in Washington, D.C.. The court issued no statement with its order and no justice publicly dissented.
In its 2008 decision the Supreme Court ruled the prisoners had a legal right to go before a judge in challenging the legality of their detention and in seeking their release.
Attorneys for the prisoners in the latest appeals challenged the admissibility of certain evidence, including U.S. government intelligence reports and other hearsay evidence based on second-hand information. They said the evidence was unreliable.
The attorneys said a U.S. appeals court incorrectly ordered trial judges to use a standard that has been too accepting of the government’s evidence. They said the appeals court denied the detainees what the Supreme Court promised in its 2008 ruling - a meaningful review of the lawfulness of their detention.
U.S. Justice Department attorneys opposed the appeals and told the Supreme Court sufficient evidence existed justifying that each of the detainees should remain in military detention.
In one of his first acts on taking office in January 2009, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, vowed that within a year he would close the Guantanamo prison, which had drawn broad international condemnation including from U.S. allies. Republicans in Congress objected and the prison, which is at a U.S. military base in Cuba, is expected to remain open indefinitely.
The prison was set up in January 2002 to hold foreign terrorism suspects captured mainly in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks. At one point during George W. Bush’s presidency, it held nearly 800 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban operatives. It now holds 169 detainees.
In New York, Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented many of the prisoners, said on Monday he was extremely disappointed by the court’s action and called on Obama to fulfill his promise to close the facility.
A Justice Department spokesman has said there are about 90 remaining unresolved cases of prisoners seeking their release. He said 32 prisoners have been ordered released while 27 have had their petitions rejected after the appeals court acted.
Nearly all release orders occurred early in the litigation, including 17 members of China’s Muslim Uighur minority.
One case the Supreme Court turned down on Monday involved Adnan Latif, a Yemeni man captured near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan in late 2001. He claimed he went to Pakistan for medical treatment.
The appeals court ruled the trial judge failed to give sufficient weight to U.S. government intelligence reports that Latif probably was seeking military training in an al Qaeda camp. The trial judge initially ordered Latif’s release.
The appeals court ruled the reports in Latif’s case should be presumed to be accurate unless there was clear contrary evidence. His attorneys challenged that finding and said the appeals court was improperly substituting its own analysis of the evidence for that of the trial judge.
Another case involved Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman of Yemen, who initially was ordered released in a decision the appeals court overturned. The appeals court cited a “plethora of damning circumstantial evidence” that he was part of al Qaeda.
A third case involved Hussain Salem Mohammed Almerfedi, another Yemeni held at Guantanamo since 2003. The appeals court again overturned the trial judge and ruled he could be detained based on his al Qaeda ties.
The high court denied all the appeals without any comment.
The Supreme Court cases are Tofiq Nasser Awad al-Bihani v. Obama, No 10-1383; Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman v. Obama, No. 11-413; Hussain Salem Mohammed Almerfedi v. Obama, No. 11-683; Adnan Latif v. Obama, No 11-1027; Fayiz Al Kandari v. United States, No. 11-1054; Musa’ab al-Madhwani v. Obama, No. 11-7020; and Moath al-Alwi v. Obama, No. 11-7700.
Reporting by James Vicini; Editing by Howard Goller and David Storey