WASHINGTON—Lawyers for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay will argue in the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday that the prisoners' detention is unconstitutional, focusing renewed attention on the United States' tarnished human rights record.
The nine justices on the highest U.S. Court are to hear argument in the appeal of 36 Guantanamo prisoners who say a 2006 law wrongly denies them a meaningful way to challenge their detention at the U.S. Naval Base on Cuba.
The case is being watched by governments and activists around the world, who say President Bush has overreached his powers and trampled on human rights in the war on terrorism he launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The Bush administration contends the detentions are lawful, humane, and necessary in a new-style war on terrorism.
"Congress has authorized a war against an international terrorist organization with no uniformed soldiers, and the detention of its members and supporters is a critical component of any such war," the administration said in its brief to the court.
The prisoners said they have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in court—a right long delayed as many have been held for six years at Guantanamo without charges.
"The founders of our nation created a Constitution dedicated to the protection of liberty, not one that turns a blind eye to indefinite detention without a meaningful opportunity to be heard," the prisoners' attorneys argued.
The oral arguments begin at 10 a.m. and are expected to last one hour. A decision is expected by summer.
The high court has ruled against the administration in two previous Guantanamo cases and one other terrorism case, but Congress adopted new measures including the 2006 law aimed at keeping such cases out of court.
This is the first time the court will consider that law and whether the Guantanamo prisoners have "habeas corpus" rights under the Constitution itself to seek a judicial review of their detention.
The Guantanamo prison opened in January 2002 after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. The administration contends the naval base, on land leased from Cuba, is outside U.S. territory so constitutional protections do not apply.
Most of the 305 prisoners have been confined for years without charges and many have complained of abuse. About 470 prisoners have been released, and the United States said it intends to try 60 to 80 of those still in detention.
Also Wednesday, a Guantanamo tribunal will hold a hearing in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, an accused guard for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. A U.N. human rights investigator is to attend the hearing.