A small victory, a larger defeat

On Saturday afternoon, a district judge temporarily blocked the Pentagon’s transfer of 13 Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo to other countries until the detainees’ lawyers can challenge the transfers in District Court. The presiding judge in the case, Abdah v. Bush, will hear the legal challenge on behalf of the Yemenis on March 24th. This marks a small victory for the legal community representing Guantanamo detainees. If the detainees are sent to other countries (apart from the potential for being further tortured), they would lose the ground they have so far made in their pending legal challenges to being detained by the U.S. in the first place.

Sunday afternoon saw the same judge (Rosemary M. Collyer) ruling in a similar case—John Does 1-570 v. Bush. This case encompasses the Guantanamo detainees who still remain unknown to the legal community. The attorneys requested that Judge Collyer prevent any transfers of detainees until they can obtain legal representation. Collyer refused, claiming that there was not sufficient evidence that the “John Does” were at risk of imminent transfer. I beg to differ. If Pentagon officials are telling the New York Times that they have plans to move over half the prisoners from Guantanamo, it seems a fair bet they’re going to do what they say—especially given the legal pressures bearing down on them (what if the latest Supreme Court appeal turns out in favor of Judge Green’s ruling?). It’s well within the Bush administrations’ interests to make these prisoners disappear before lawyers find them, represent them, and bring the administration long-lasting litigation and bad PR.