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At Historic Habeas Corpus Hearing, Guantanamo's 'Dangerous Experiment in Indefinite Detention' Challenged

"The government says my detention is legal because of the indefinite war against terrorism. When terrorism ends, the war will end. So, never."

A Guantanamo protest

"Due process of law does not permit the arbitrary detention of individuals, particularly at the hands of a president like Donald Trump, who has pledged to prevent any releases from Guantánamo," said CCR's Baher Azmy. (Photo: Justin Norman/flickr/cc)

Lawyers representing a group of men held for over a decade without charge at Guantánamo asked a federal court on Wednesday to provide judicial intervention to stop the men's arbitrary and unlawful imprisonment—continued detention, the legal team says, that is fueled by President Donald Trump's "executive hubris and raw animus."

"Our dangerous experiment in indefinite detention, after 16 years, has run its course," said Baher Azmy, legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who argued before Judge Thomas Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

CCR, human rights organization Reprieve, and other counsel filed on January 11—the offshore prison's 16th anniversary—a challenge to the men's indefinite detention. The habeas corpus motion (pdf) references the "devastating psychological and physiological consequences" and "conditions devised to break human beings" the men continue to experience. In addition to violating the constitutional right to due process, the motion argues:

[Trump's] defiant policy exceeds his authority under the 2001 Authorization for "Use of Military Force ("AUMF"), which permits detention only for the narrow purpose of preventing the return of detainees to the battlefield. Instead, the policy is a symbolic, indifferentiated assertion of this president's expectation of absolute executive authority and a rejection of the policy framework that has governed Guantánamo detentions for years. Not least, it is a demonstration of his antipathy to ward this prisoner population, all foreign-born Muslim men, and toward Muslims more broadly, of the kind courts have properly rejected in recent months.

"The government says my detention is legal because of the indefinite war against terrorism. When terrorism ends, the war will end. So, never," said 43-year-old Sharqawi Al Hajj, a Yemeni who's been detained without charge since 2002. His is among the separate 8 motions Judge Hogan heard.

Al Hajj and the other petitioners, however, were not allowed to listen to their own hearing. The government, which spends over $10 million a year per detainee at Guantanamo, said it didn't have a room to accommodate all the shackled men listening to a live feed. The court agreed with the government that a transcript would suffice.

According to a press statement from Reprieve, Judge Hogan asked U.S. Justice Department attorney Ronald Wiltsie if the AUMF justification would allow the government to detain the men for 116 years.

"Yes," Wiltsie said. "We are still engaged with the same battle foes in the same battle space."

As Azmy stressed, "Due process of law does not permit the arbitrary detention of individuals, particularly at the hands of a president like Donald Trump, who has pledged to prevent any releases from Guantánamo. That position is based not on a meaningful assessment of any actual threat, but on Trump's animosity towards Muslims, including these foreign-born prisoners at Guantanamo—the height of arbitrariness. Short of judicial intervention, Trump will succeed."

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