Court to Review Classified Gitmo Evidence

A federal appeals court has ordered the government to disclose classified evidence against Guantanamo detainees to the court and the lawyers who are defending them.

The ruling on Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit indicates the court intends to conduct full reviews of Bush administration decisions about the detainees, the Washington Post reports.

The Detainee Treatment Act designates the appeals court to review decisions by the military’s Combatant Status Review Tribunals. The tribunals determine whether terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo are enemy combatants.

“The court cannot, as the DTA charges us, consider whether a preponderance of the evidence supports the tribunal’s status determination without seeing all the evidence, any more than one can tell whether a fraction is more or less than one half by looking only at the numerator and not at the denominator,” Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote for the court.

The opinion said the government may withhold certain highly sensitive information from defense counsel, but not from the court.

P. Sabin Willett, a Boston lawyer who represents the detainees, told the New York Times the ruling is “a resounding rejection of the government’s effort to hide the truth.”

A spokesman told the newspapers that lawyers at the U.S. Justice Department are “reviewing the decision’s implications and considering our options.”

The ruling is Bismullah v. Gates (PDF), No. 06-1397.

A separate case affecting Guantanamo detainees is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. It contends the Constitution permits their habeas petitions despite a law that limits court access. (For more details see this post.)

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