Sunday, February 13, 2005

This week in law and policy

New lawsuit filed on behalf of 500+ "John Does" held in Gitmo

On Friday, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit in the DC District Court on behalf of more than 500 Guantanamo Bay detainees. Thus far, these "John Does"--so designated because the government does not reveal the identities of indenitely detained individuals--have been effectively denied access to counsel.

The complaint argues that the holding of Rasul v Bush gives each detainee the right to challenge his or her status in the United States courts. Without knowing their identities or having physical access to them, however, lawyers have found it impossible to utilize the ruling. Other DC District Court cases have conflicted with respect to Rasul v Bush's significance. Go to the Center for Constitutional Rights for more information about the case, along with a link to the complaint.

In other Guantanamo news, SCOTUSblog (note the new URL) reports that on Thursday the Justice Department asked the DC CoA to allow a direct and expedited appeal of Judge Green's ruling that the detainees have the right to challenge their detention in US federal court. The question presented is whether the detainees have any rights under the United States Constitution and the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. The request is very likely to be granted.

Ex-detainee says he was tortured

Today's New York Times reports that Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen who was born in Egypt, claims that he was tortured by United States authorities after being arrested in Pakistan soon after September 11, 2001. From Pakistan, he was taken to Egypt, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay during the 40 months that he was held as a terror suspect. He has been released and has returned home.

At one point during his detention, Habib was sent to Egypt where he was interrogated harshly--more harshly than would have been possible within the United States. The process of taking suspects elsewhere to be "questioned"--and, as even some agents involved in the detention system admit, possibly tortured--is known as "rendition." The New Yorker's 2/14/05 issue covers rendition in detail.

Senate Alters Class-Action Lawsuit Rules

In a legislative move with tremendous potential impact on civil rights groups, consumers, and labor organizations, on Thursday the Senate voted to remove many class-action lawsuits from state courts to federal courts.

Such suits may still be brought if the requested relief totals at least $5 million and at least one class member is diverse with respect to the defendant. However, a 1985 Supreme Court ruling means that they are barred if there are significant differences in the relevant law between the states of which class members are citizens. In addition, such suits will face already-overburdened federal dockets and potentially lower chances of being heard in a timely manner.

Supporters and detractors differed sharply as to the rule change's ultimate consequences, with Sen. Bill Frist claiming that the bill stops "lawsuit abuses" and Sen. Edward Kennedy identifying consumers as the bill's biggest victims.

ABA report on indigent defendants: grim news

The ABA reports that each year, thousands of indigent defendants go through the American legal system without meaningful legal representation. See Jurist for more.

Lawyer convicted of aiding terrorists

Lynne F. Stewart has been convicted of aiding terrorism by delivering messages from her convicted client to his followers in the outside world. While she had signed an agreement stating that she would not do so, Stewart testified that she believed that an unwritten "bubble" in the prison rules allowed her conduct and that acting as a go-between was necessary to appropriately represent the interests of her client.

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