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CCR tells story of Guantanamo Bay

KEENE VALLEY Two lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) visited Keene Valley Congregational Church on June 28 to discuss some new developments regarding the rights of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. More than 60 people were in attendance as Emilou MacLean and Michael Smith presented background on Guantanamo Bay and a recent court decision affirming detainees rights. The U.S. Government has been using Guantanamo Bay, a naval base on lease from Cuba since 1903, as a detention center for foreign nationals suspected of terrorist-related activity. Under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress in the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Military under the authority of President Bush has detained hundreds of individuals at Guantanamo for an indefinite period of time in what many have reported to be inhumane conditions. Since Guantanamo is on foreign soil and detainees are not U.S. citizens, they are denied many of the rights afforded to citizens under the Constitution. Only since 2004 have lawyers been let into Guantanamo to provide legal representation prisoners there. This visit from MacLean and Smith came in the wake of a recent 5-4 decision in the U.S. Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush affirming habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees. The public forum served as both an awareness campaign and a fundraiser for CCR, a non-profit organization funded almost entirely by donations. Donations collected at this event totalled over $4,800. Habeas corpus, latin for 'produce the body,' is a provision that dates back to the Magna Carta of thirteenth-century England and requires that prisoners being held for criminal activity be brought before a judge to determine if they are being lawfully detained. The U.S. Constitution states that the right to habeas corpus can be suspended only in times of emergency, such as a rebellion or invasion. MacLean explained that previous Supreme Court decisions in 2004 and 2006 had upheld habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees, but those decisions were challenged yet again with the passage of the Military Commissions Act. The act, passed by Congress in 2006, stated that detainees could not challenge the legality of their detention in federal courts. Instead, special military commissions under the authority of the Executive Branch could act as determination hearings. The June 12 decision in Boumediene declared those provisions of the act unconstitutional, arguing the detainees still had constitutional rights to habeas corpus even though they were aliens being held on foreign soil. MacLean said that while people are led to believe that Guantanamo inmates are a serious threat to national security, information gathered by attorneys tells a different story. We now know that only 8 percent are even alleged by the U.S. Government to be Al Queda fighters. We know that nearly 90% were turned over to U.S. forces by foreign forces or individuals at a time when the U.S. was offering a sizeable bounty in exchange for the handover of suspected enemies on very limited information. We know that there are children as young as twelve or fourteen and the elderly, she said. According to MacLean, many detainees are simply refugees and would probably be released if their home countries were willing to let them back in. Hundreds of people previously held at Guantanamo have already been cleared and released into the custody of their home countries. In several of those cases, the countries cleared the prisoners of any wrongdoing. Despite habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees being upheld in the Supreme Court on three separate occasions, a writ of habeas corpus has yet to be heard for any Guantanamo detainee. MacLean expects the most recent decision to finally place obligations on the government to allow for such hearings. Despite the legal victory for CCR, The situation at Guantanamo remains desperate, MacLean said, citing testimony from detainees about hunger strikes among the prisoners and the abusive conditions under which they are held. She called for continued activism on the subject. MacLean also noted that the U.S. imprisons thousands of foreigners in other extra-legal prisons around the world. We must remember that Guantanamo is only representative of this broader array of abuses, she said. For more information on the Center for Constitutional Rights, visit www.ccrjustice.org.

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