U.S. President Barack Obama sided with the previous Bush administration Friday, saying detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.
In a two-sentence court filing, the U.S. Justice Department said it agreed that detainees at Bagram Airfield cannot use U.S. courts to challenge their detention. The filing sparked dismay among human rights lawyers.
"The hope we all had in President Obama to lead us on a different path has not turned out as we'd hoped," said Tina Monshipour Foster, a human rights attorney representing a detainee at the Bagram Airfield. "We all expected better."
Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court gave al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention. With about 600 detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and thousands more held in Iraq, courts are grappling with whether they, too, can sue to be released.
After Obama took office, a federal judge in Washington gave the new administration a month to decide whether it wanted to stand by Bush's legal argument. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd says the filing speaks for itself.
"They've now embraced the Bush policy that you can create prisons outside the law," said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has represented several detainees.
The Justice Department argues that Bagram is different from Guantanamo Bay because it is in an overseas war zone and the prisoners there are being held as part of an ongoing military action.
The government argues that releasing enemy combatants into the Afghan war zone, or even diverting U.S. personnel there to consider their legal cases, could threaten security.