MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. The federal appeals court here in Washington has upheld to the controversial detainee bill known as the Military Commissions Act. In a 2-1 ruling, the court said the measure constitutionally wiped out all of the pending court cases from detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: When Congress passed the Military Commissions Act last September, lawyers for Guantanamo detainees asked, did Congress really just throw out all of our clients' cases? And is that constitutional?
Today, the court answered, yes, they did, and yes, it is. The 2-1 opinion reads like a boxing match. Writing for the majority, Judge Raymond Randolph calls the detainees' arguments creative but not cogent. He says the logic in the dissent is filled with holes. In that dissent, Judge Judith Rogers shoots back that the majority can only reach its conclusion by misreading the historical record and ignoring the Supreme Court.
She says the Military Commissions Act is unconstitutional as written and cannot take away the courts' right to hear these cases. The ruling is a clear blow to the Guantanamo detainees. Bill Goodman is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a number of them.
Mr. BILL GOODMAN (Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights): Many of these people have done nothing. They are there by accident and happenstance. And the fact that they can no longer even raise that basic defense, the basic defense that I've done nothing wrong, means that this is a huge trampling of rights.
SHAPIRO: This decision wipes out cases that challenged everything from lack of medical treatment at the facility to abusive interrogation tactics. David Rivkin worked in the Justice Department under President Reagan and the first President Bush. He says enemy combatants were never intended to get the same court access as criminal suspects.
Mr. DAVID RIVKIN (Former Justice Department Official): There's been more judicial involvement in these types of decisions than in any war in American history. And for the critics, it's still not enough. Yes, he would not be able to challenge the quality of food in Guantanamo.
SHAPIRO: Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos noted in a statement that the Military Commissions Act, or MCA, does give detainees some legal review.
Ms. TASIA SCOLINOS (Spokeswoman, Justice Department): The decision reaffirms the validity of the framework that Congress established in the MCA, permitting Guantanamo detainees to challenge their detention through combatant status review tribunals with the opportunity for judicial review before the D.C. circuit.
SHAPIRO: So although the detainees cannot file traditional habeas corpus claims challenging their detention, they can challenge the combatant status review tribunals that determine whether they are enemy combatants. Those challenges go directly to the court that decided this case today. Wake Forest law professor Bobby Chesney says it's unclear how deep those challenges can probe.
Professor BOBBY CHESNEY (Law, Wake Forest University): One of the key issues here is whether that is an adequate alternative to habeas corpus. And if it is, if it's a sufficient alternative, then habeas has not actually been suspended.
SHAPIRO: Which would then answer the concerns of the dissenting judge. The final word on whether the detainees' lawsuits can continue is likely to come from the Supreme Court. In fact, Chesney sees today's ruling as just the latest step in a process.
Prof. CHESNEY: At the very least, it gives a considerable length of time before these cases proceed anywhere.
SHAPIRO: Last week, a group of Senate Democrats introduced a bill that would undo the court-stripping provisions of the Military Commissions Act. But as law professor Chesney said, you don't have to be a congressional expert to know that the president's not going to sign such a bill.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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