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Friday, April 4, 2008

DC Circuit Considers Legality of Detainee Treatment Act

In yet another challenge to the Bush administration’s sweeping claims of executive power, a Chinese national who is being held at Guantanamo Bay, has disputed the constitutionality of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA). In an appeal brought before the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, Huzaifa Parhat and his attorneys question the legality of the broad “enemy combatant” definition enacted by the DTA, which was passed as a congressional attempt to undo the Supreme Court's holding (Rasul v. Bush, 2004) that non-citizens detained without charge at Guantanamo have a right to a hearing in U.S. court.

Parhat, who has been a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay for almost six years, is one of several men known as Uighurs who were detained in Afghanistan in 2001. Uighurs, Muslims from Western China, are a religious and an ethnic minority in their home country. Parhat claims that he and his fellow Uighur refugees came to Afghanistan in an attempt to flee persecution by the Chinese government. It turns out that persecution is not so easy to escape.

According to the Associated Press, the American government “acknowledges it has no evidence that Parhat…ever fought against the U.S. or its allies” but still considers him a threat. Officials at the Justice Department claim that he received “weapons training” from an organization known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which they allege has ties to al Qaeda. Even though they have no evidence that Parhat was ever actually a member of ETIM, officials claim that even a tenuous association with the group would justify his detention.

This issue, how a person is classified as an “enemy combatant,” is at the center of Parhat’s court challenge. According to Parhat’s attorneys, the DTA only provides the president with the authority to detain people directly affiliated with al Qaeda, not ETIM. The Justice Department dismisses this argument, and contends that the president should naturally have the authority to classify anyone associated with any organization affiliated with al Qaeda as combatants.

Parhat’s case joins several others currently being considered by both the DC Circuit and the Supreme Court which question exactly how much authority the president has to detain suspected terrorists. This case differs from the others in the sense that it actually challenges the very definition of an enemy combatant, rather than what procedures should apply to that class of people or whether there is evidence that a certain person actually falls within the definition.

The Bush administration has used the “war on terror” to dismantle the very bedrocks of our legal system which have made it a beacon of liberty and justice throughout the world. The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 are shameful pieces of legislation which were passed in an atmosphere of paranoia and fear. They do not reflect the values that America holds dear and should be repealed immediately. Until Congress sees fit to fix these laws however, the federal judiciary has the responsibility to review them against the backdrop of the Constitution and strike them down when they conflict with its guarantees.

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