(CN) – The government cannot detain prisoners at Guantanamo Bay based on their alleged support of terrorism, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled. “In short, the Court can find no authority in domestic law or the law of war … to justify the concept of ‘support’ as a valid ground for detention,” U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote.
The ruling scaled back the government’s authority to detain alleged terrorist supporters, but upheld its ability to imprison anyone directly involved in terrorism or terrorist groups.
Several Gitmo detainees challenged the government’s framework for detaining them, claiming it violated federal law and the law of war.
According to the government, the president has the authority to detain anyone who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, along with those who “were part of or substantially supported” the Taliban, al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
The government cited the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a joint resolution outlining the government’s ability to detain suspected terrorists in the wake of Sept. 11. The government unsuccessfully cited the AUMF in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in which the Supreme Court struck down the Bush administration’s military commissions at Guantanamo Bay.
The government argued that the laws of war had evolved with the threat of terrorism, making it necessary to detain “those persons whose relationship to al-Qaida or the Taliban would, in appropriately analogous circumstances in a traditional armed conflict, render them detainable.”
Judge Bates noted the dearth of legal guidance on where to draw the line on what alleged actions or associations justify detention at Guantanamo.
He ultimately determined that the government can detain people for acts of terrorism and membership in the Taliban, al-Qaida or associated forces, but not for their “substantial support” of those groups.
Bates rejected the government’s claim that the phrase “substantial support” was meant to catch individuals who were not technically part of any terrorist organization, but who provided critical funding.
“Regardless of the reasonableness of this approach from a policy perspective,” Bates wrote, “a detention authority that sweeps so broadly is simply beyond what the law of war will support.”