In a decision that comes just in the nick of time for an Obama administration that is struggling with the question of what to do with the Guantanamo detainees, a district court judge in Washington DC has ruled that the government can continue its detention of individuals so long as they fall under the terms of the congressional authorization of force following the September 11 terrorist attacks and the laws of non-international conflicts.
The judge, District Court Judge John D. Bates, did limit the Obama administration's proposed guidelines for the detentions, ruling that the government can't detain individuals simply because they offered "substantial support" or "directly supported hostilities." According to Judge Bates, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) issues by Congress and the law of non-international conflicts under the Geneva Convention only supported the detention of individuals who were "part of" the groups involved in the 9/11 attacks. Simply supporting the groups was insufficient under the AUMF and the law of war. The judge went on to state, however, that the government could detain those
persons who were members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, as well as those
who engaged in belligerent acts towards the US.
several things besides the actual holding that are significant about
this decision: First, it's important that a federal court is hearing
detainees' petitions for writ of habeas corpus as directed by the
Supreme Court in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Boumediene v. Bush.
the judge specifically noted that, for purposes of this analysis, the
Obama administration's move away from classifying detainees as "enemy
combatants" didn't really have an effect on the analysis, the scope of
which was essentially the same as in Hamdi.
Third, it's worth
noting that the judge relied on the Geneva convention in limiting the
scope of the government's detention power, and even the government took
pains to stress that its position was informed by the laws of war.
the decision will come as a relief to the Obama administration since it
will buy it some time while it figures out what to do with the
detainees as it attempts to close down Guantanamo. The Senate has refused to give the administration any funds
to close the facility until it has a plan for the detainees. If the
judge had ruled against the administration's authority to keep the men at Gitmo, it would have added considerable pressure to an already
uncomfortable situation for the White House.