DC Circuit upholds broad presidential authority to detain terrorism suspects

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that the president has broad authority to detain suspected terrorists, finding that the detention of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ghaleb Nassar Al-Bihani [NYT materials] is authorized under domestic law. In its first Guantanamo habeas ruling since the US Supreme Court decided Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in 2008, the appeals court affirmed the lower court decision [JURIST report] by Judge Richard Leon to deny Al-Bihani's petition for habeas corpus. The three-judge panel of the DC Circuit found that "Al-Bihani was both part of and substantially supported enemy forces." The court also found that the scope of the president's detention authority is not constrained by international law, and that the government's burden of proof in habeas proceedings is only a preponderance of the evidence standard. While all three members of the panel concurred in the result, one member wrote separately to question the court's conclusion that international laws of war have no impact on the president's detention authority. An appeal is expected, which could result in a rehearing by the full appeals court.

Tuesday's ruling will have an impact on future habeas cases brought in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], where different judges have been applying their own standards since the Boumediene decision. In May, Judge John Bates rejected [JURIST report] the Obama administration's "substantial support" standard. Earlier that month, Judge Gladys Kessler applied the "substantially supported" standard [JURIST report] for reviewing habeas petitions filed by detainees, making no reference to the "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive] classification used previously. In April, Judge Reggie Walton also adopted [JURIST report] the "substantially supported" standard for authorizing and reviewing detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo.



 

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