Whether or not the rights laid out in the US Constitution apply to inmates at Guantanamo Bay is the subject of debate this week as the pre-trial hearings begin for five men implicated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including the alleged mastermind. While the prisoners are non-US citizens being held outside of US territory, a 2008 Supreme Court decision dictated that the American constitutional right of Habeas Corpus applies. Arguments being brought for the defense now ask the court to decide whether the other rights in the US Constitution apply to the captives as well.
Under Habeas Corpus, prisoners have the right to be brought before a judge and challenge their imprisonment. Habeas Corpus helps protect individual citizens against arbitrary state action and is considered by many to be one of the most fundamental rights in democratic countries. The court ruled that the United States had “de facto sovereignty” over Guantanamo as the base is entirely under American control. The ruling applied specifically to Habeas Corpus, while other American constitutional rights were not addressed.
Lawyers for the accused are now arguing that all US constitutional rights should apply to the tribunals, except those which the prosecution can prove would be “impractical and anomalous” to exercise. The prosecutor for the United States, Clay Trivett, is arguing that when the US Congress established the tribunal at Guantanamo Bay the intention was not to establish a system where those on trial would have the same rights as they would if they were tried within the United States. Trivett is urging the judge at the tribunal not to issue what he called a “premature” blanket opinion on the application of rights, and instead address issues one by one as they come up.