Guantanamo Bay tribunals unlawful, says Supreme Court

In a powerful rejection of the administration's efforts to place its actions outside the normal judicial process and the reach of international law, the court declared that the President's use of military commissions to try prisoners was unconstitutional because they did not satisfy the requirements of the Geneva Conventions. Of equal importance, the court also opened the way for each of the 450 prisoners held at the prison - and presumably at other US bases - to have their day in court and to challenge America's basis for holding them.

"This is a great victory," said Clive Stafford Smith, a British lawyer who represents 36 of the prisoners. "It means the end of Guantanamo, effectively. It means that anyone held around the world has the right to justice. It's a great day for the rule of law in the US." Three Britons who were held at Guantanamo for two years before being released without charge - Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed - said in a statement: "We are ecstatic at today's outcome. This is another step in our collective efforts to see that those we left behind are treated fairly under international law."

Last night the immediate impact of the ruling on Guantanamo itself was unclear. Mr Bush said he would examine whether the military commissions could be reconstituted, adding: "The American people need to know that the ruling, as I understand it, won't cause killers to be put out on the street. I'm not going to jeopardise the safety of the American people ... I will protect the people and at the same time conform with the findings of the Supreme Court."

But legal experts said both the court's views on the commissions and the implications for prisoners were clear. Joe Margulies, a lecturer at the University of Chicago law school, said the Government would have to defend in court its holding of detainees. He said: "The Government has never done that. If it does not do that it means it will have to let them go."

Others said that by maintaining that the president's actions are subject to limits, even at a time of war, the court also challenged the government's justification for such actions as secret wiretapping. Michael Ratner of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said: "What this says to the administration is that you can no longer decide arbitrarily what you want to do with people."

The prison was established in 2002 to hold prisoners caught during the US-led operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Only 10 inmates have been formally charged and the US set-up a system of military commissions - not used since the Second World War - to hear the cases. It claimed that the men held were not genuine prisoners of war as they were not members of a properly constituted army and thus the Geneva Conventions did not apply

Yesterday's ruling was based on a challenge brought by lawyers for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 36-year-old Yemeni accused of being a driver for Osama bin Laden and charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism. The court said the military commission being used to try Hamdan was unconstitutional because it was not authorised by any act of Congress and it violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions. The court also ruled that legislation passed last year as a separate means of preventing prisoners challenging their incarceration was not retroactive, meaning their habeas corpus lawsuits can proceed and they will have their day in court.

Even before the rulings, the administration said it was trying to return around a third of the prisoners no longer considered a threat. It has been in negotiations with several countries about returning their nationals.

While the ruling makes no reference to the future of Guantanamo Bay, Mr Stafford Smith said he believed the administration would now bring a small number of prisoners to the US and try them in the civil courts or hold regular military courts martial and release the rest. He said if - as it claims - the administration was genuinely looking for a "way out" of Guantanamo, the court had presented them with an easy option.

Amnesty International UK's director, Kate Allen, said: "The camp should be closed and all detainees allowed fair trials or release to safe countries."

Mr Hamdan's lawyer, Lt-Cdr Charles Swift, said the ruling "shows that we can't be scared out of who we are, and that's a victory".

Not all agreed. Three of the justices - Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito - disagreed with the court's judgment and Judge Thomas said from the bench the decision would "sorely hamper the President's ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need