[JURIST] District Judge John D. Bates of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] granted a motion to amend [order, PDF] petitions for writs of habeas corpus on Tuesday for four detainees held at Bagram Air Force Base (Bagram) [official website; JURIST news archive]. Bates’ ruling [opinion, PDF] granted the amended petition on the basis of new evidence offered by the petitioners, including assertions that civilian criminal trials for Afghan nationals have begun in Bagram, that movement and retention of detainees in Afghanistan reflects the Executive Branch’s aim to avoid judicial scrutiny of detention policies, and that there are plans to hold non-Afghans in order to avoid obligations before courts. The petitioners claim that the new evidence undercuts the jurisdictional analysis applied by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] in its May 21, 2010 ruling [JURIST report] denying the defendants’ habeas corpus challenge. The respondents countered that the new information is not factually based and would not change the court’s analysis of the issue. Bates expressed doubts regarding the success of the petitioners amended writ, but allowed the motion to amend concluding that:
While the Court has some doubts about the consequence of the additional evidence under that analytical framework, that issue is better explored through full consideration of the evidence and the parties’ positions, rather than under the limited “futility” appraisal in which it is now presented. That will, moreover, be consistent with Rule 15’s strong encouragement of amendment — if the facts presented may enable relief then amendment should be “freely given” and a plaintiff should be permitted the opportunity to have the claims tested on their merits.
Bates denied the petitioners request for jurisdictional discovery. He instead directed them to assert the jurisdictional discovery issue in opposition to the expected request to dismiss the amended habeas corpus petition. The amended petitions must be filed by March 28, 2011.
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. 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 v. Bush [JURIST report], “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 these 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 decision to deny habeas corpus relief in May 2010 drew criticism from commentators [JURIST op-ed] who stated that the decision provided the Executive branch with virtually unlimited cover to deny human rights.