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United States: Supreme Court Rules Military Commissions Illegal

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that President Bush did not have authority to set up military commissions at Guantanámo Bay, Cuba. The court also found the military commissions illegal under both U.S. military justice law and the Geneva Conventions. Since the creation of military commissions in 2002, Human Rights Watch has asserted that the military commissions at Guantanámo violated fundamental rights to due process and a fair trial.

Through first- hand accounts, publicly released letters to senior officials, press releases, op-eds, background information, media interviews, and a legal brief in the Hamdan case itself, we exposed the commissions’ lopsided take on justice—the denial of independent judicial oversight by a civilian court, severe restrictions on the right to conduct a defense, and the possible use of evidence obtained through torture and other forms of coercion. The Supreme Court’s ruling sets new limits on the executive branch’s powers in wartime, reasserts the right of all detainees to fair and humane treatment, and adds to the pressure on the administration to abide by international law. As the repercussions of this enormously significant decision unfold in the coming months, Human Rights Watch will continue our strong advocacy against the United States’ erosion of international human rights standards in the name of counterterrorism.

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