Handle detainees the American way

Huzaifa Parhat, a Chinese Muslim who has been kept virtually incommunicado for more than six years at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, finally got his day in court. It came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he and 270 or so other detainees there were entitled to go before a federal judge to require the government to show why it was holding them.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia heard his case and unanimously ordered that he be released, transferred or granted a new hearing on his incarceration. It was the first time a federal court had granted a detainee the opportunity to seek his release through civilian courts.

The panel was no bunch of judicial liberals. Two of the judges were Republican appointees, including David Sentelle, formerly of Charlotte, appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan.

The ruling affirmed a note sent to us recently by George Daly, a Charlotte lawyer who has represented detainees at Guantanamo. Mr. Daly wrote:

“The Supreme Court recently ruled that the U.S. Constitution entitled Guantanamo prisoners to a habeas corpus hearing. Habeas corpus is a proceeding before a judge to find out if there are facts that legally justify a person's further imprisonment. Many Guantanamo prisoners have sought habeas corpus hearings, claiming that the facts will show that they are not enemy combatants.”

Mr. Daly noted that of the hundreds of detainees released from Guantanamo, all had been released by the Defense Department – not one of them by a court. These were men U.S. officials first characterized as the “worst of the worst.” Some of them were. But it quickly became evident to officials at Guantanamo that most of them not only were not enemy combatants, but were no threat to the United States at all.

But what if more men are released because the government is unable to prove to a judge's satisfaction that they're enemies of the United States?

Mr. Daly wrote, “Either you believe that your government should be able to lock up a non-citizen forever … or you believe that this is more about who we are than who they are – that giving a prisoner a hearing before a judge to determine if he should be in jail is a valuable part of American liberty and worth some risk.”

Mr. Daly concluded, “For myself, I believe that a brave trust in law and fairness will serve us better than being ruled by fear. As Justice Kennedy put it for the Supreme Court: ‘Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law.'”

We agree.