The Supreme Court signaled Monday that it will not review claims from the remaining Guantanamo prisoners, leaving their fate in the hands of the Obama administration.
The justices turned down appeals from seven suspected terrorists held in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, known as Gitmo, all of whom had lost before judges in Washington. They argued that they had been denied the "meaningful opportunity" for freedom that the high court promised four years ago.
Meanwhile, the lone American citizen who was arrested in this country and held by the military as an "enemy combatant" also had his case turned away.
Jose Padilla and his mother, Estela Lebron, sued former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top officials for a symbolic $1 in damages. They contended that it was unconstitutional for the military to imprison a U.S. citizen and torture him for information.
But the courts have consistently blocked lawsuits against U.S. officials over their anti-terrorism policies, and Padilla's lawsuit was tossed out by two lower courts. The justices dismissed the case without a comment.
Ben Wizner, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said the decision "leaves in place a blank check for government officials to commit any abuse in the name of national security, even the brutal torture of an American citizen in an American prison. To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration's torture regime has received his day in court."
Padilla was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in 2002 after a flight from Pakistan. He was held for more than three years by the U.S. military. But the Bush administration switched course in 2005 and charged him with aiding terrorists. He was convicted by a jury in Florida and is serving a 17-year prison term in Colorado.
Lawyers for the Gitmo prisoners say the conservative U.S. appeals court in Washington had made it practically impossible for their clients to win an appeal.
Until Monday, they held out hope that the high court would intervene.
Four years ago this month, the prisoners' lawyers celebrated what they saw as a historic victory in the Supreme Court. The justices, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the Constitution guaranteed the prisoners the right to habeas corpus and to seek their freedom before a federal judge. But that decision did not spell out the rules for deciding such claims.
Since then, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington has ruled, for example, that the military's field reports describing the circumstances of a prisoner's capture should be presumed as accurate.
In another matter, the court refused to hear an appeal challenging President Obama's U.S. citizenship and his eligibility to serve as commander in chief.
It refused to hear an appeal from Alan Keyes, Wiley Drake and Markham Robinson after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the challengers did not have legal standing to file the lawsuit. The three contend that his Hawaii birth certificate is a forgery. Hawaii officials have repeatedly verified Obama's citizenship.