WASHINGTON - A federal district judge ruled yesterday that the foreigners imprisoned at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had no legal way to challenge their detentions in federal court.
The judge, Richard J. Leon, said seven prisoners who brought a claim in his court could not be granted writs of habeas corpus that would have required federal courts to consider whether they were lawfully detained.
He said the courts could not do this even though the Supreme Court ruled in June that the prisoners had the right to invoke habeas corpus law. Leon made a distinction between the right to file for a habeas corpus petition before a judge and the right to obtain one.
The decision would be a major victory for the government and an equivalent setback to the detainees but for a quirk in the way the Guantanamo detainee cases have been distributed in the federal courts. While Leon ruled in the case of seven detainees, a separate, nearly identical lawsuit involving 54 is being considered by another federal judge in the same courthouse.
The situation came about when most parties in the case, including the Justice Department, wanted to consolidate the petitions for writs of habeas corpus. While other judges transferred their cases to Judge Joyce Hens Green, Leon declined.
In June, the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration's claim that because the Guantanamo base is in Cuba, inmates had no access to U.S. courts. The justices also ruled that detainees could file petitions for habeas corpus relief.
But the Justice Department has argued that the Supreme Court ruling was not nearly so broad. In essence, Leon agreed.
Leon also ruled that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported yesterday that two defense lawyers who met recently with about a dozen Kuwaitis held at Guantanamo Bay said the men appeared emaciated and complained of physical abuse, humiliation and torture.