A US federal district judge ruled on Wednesday that the foreigners imprisoned at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had no legal way to challenge their detentions in federal court.
Judge Richard Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia said the seven prisoners who brought a claim could not be granted what they had asked for: writs of habeas corpus that would have required the federal courts to consider whether they were lawfully detained.
He said the courts could not do this even though the Supreme Court ruled last June that the prisoners had the right to invoke the habeas corpus law in asking federal judges for relief. Leon made a distinction between the right to file for a habeas corpus petition before a judge and the right to obtain one.
The decision would be a major victory for the government and an equivalent setback to the detainees, but for a quirk in the way the Guantanamo detainee cases have been distributed in the federal courts.
While Leon ruled in the case of seven detainees, a separate, nearly identical lawsuit involving a different set of 54 detainees is being considered by another federal judge in the same courthouse.
In that case, Judge Joyce Hens Green is facing the same issues as Leon. She may well rule the same way, but when the cases were argued last month on consecutive days, Green appeared more amenable to the detainees' arguments than Leon. If Green rules in favor of the defendants, it would create a conflict that would not effectively provide an answer and would leave conflicting rulings for appeals courts to weigh.