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Humanists Applaud U.S. Supreme Court for Upholding Detainee Rights

For Immediate Release - Contact Fred Edwords at (202) 238-9088
fedwords@americanhumanist.org - www.americanhumanist.org

(Washington, D.C., June 12, 2008) Humanists applauded today's U.S. Supreme Court decision that backed habeas corpus rights for foreign terrorism suspects. In Boumediene v. Bush, the court ruled 5-4 that prisoners cannot be held indefinitely and without charges at Guantanamo, the U.S. naval base in Cuba. It is the third such ruling against the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners. But here the Court said that the political branches don't have "the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will" by deciding for themselves when and where the Constitution's terms apply or to say "what the law is."  

"This is a great reaffirmation of the rule of law against a runaway executive branch," commented Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "The Bush Administration's policies toward detainees have been both inhumane and un-American. Holding people indefinitely without trial, practicing torture, and trying to make an end run on the Constitution aren't what America is about. This is not what our country stands for. Thankfully the High Court agrees."

The ruling not only declared that detainees have rights under the U.S. Constitution but that the current system of classification of "enemy combatant" and review is inadequate. The court has twice ruled that detainees can challenge their detention in civilian court. The Bush Administration and a then Republican controlled Congress have previously argued that detainees have no rights and aren't entitled to civilian court hearings. In today's ruling, the court specifically struck down a provision of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that denied habeas corpus rights to detainees.

"Habeas corpus is one of the most fundamental aspects of our legal system," added Mel Lipman, a constitutional attorney and president of the American Humanist Association. "And we're pleased that the Court also acted to prevent further delay in this case, given that some of these detainees have been behind bars for more than six years now. But it remains for the Court to firmly recognize that the principle of habeas corpus must be extended to all persons in our detention, regardless of the extraordinary conditions of the times. The Constitution can't be suspended just because we're engaged in an undeclared war against non-state actors."

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens formed the majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Approximately 270 detainees are currently at Guantanamo held on ties to al-Qaeda and suspicion of terrorism.

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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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