The US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] heard arguments Monday on whether US courts could hear foreign nationals' challenges to their detention by the US military at Bagram Air Force Base (Bagram) [official website; JURIST news archive] in Afghanistan. District Judge John Bates [official profile] asked petitioners what conditions had changed since his ruling three years ago that three Bagram detainees could proceed with habeas corpus challenges [JURIST report] to their detention. The petitioners claim that new evidence undercuts the jurisdictional analysis applied by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] in its May 2010 decision overturning Bates' ruling [JURIST report] and denying the detainees' habeas challenges. The DC Circuit held that Bates failed to assess the significance of Bagram being located in "a theater of war" when he applied a multi-factor test developed in 2008 [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court [official website] in Boumediene v. Bush [opinion]. Afterward, in denying a rehearing plea that was based on new evidence regarding Bargram, the DC Circuit told detainees' lawyers that they could bring the evidence to the DC District Court, appearing again before Bates to explore the new evidence. After the two hour and 20 minute hearing Bates gave no indication on how he would rule [SCOTUSblog report] but told counsel to submit in brief any additional information that was available.
The DC District Court has been the venue for many habeas challenges during the course of the war on terror. In April 2010 Judge Thomas Hogan dismissed as moot [JURIST report] 105 habeas corpus petitions of former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees no longer in US custody, a result of the DC Circuit's decision to overturn Bates and deny habeas relief in May 2010. Hogan wrote that in deciding the case, the court was answering one of the questions left open by the Supreme Court's decision in Boumediene, "what happens to a Guantanamo detainee's habeas claim once he is transferred or released." In June 2009 Bates granted a government motion [JURIST reports] to certify and suspend several defendants' habeas petitions, pending appeal to the Circuit Court. The certification allowed the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] to seek interlocutory appeal from the DC Circuit. The DC Circuit's 2010 decision to deny habeas relief drew criticism from commentators [JURIST op-ed] who stated that the decision provided the Executive Branch with virtually unlimited cover to deny human rights. Last week it was reported that the US would retain control over all non-Afghan detainees at Bagram [JURIST report], despite plans to transfer control of all Afghanistan prisons to the Afghan government within two months.