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'The End of Guantanamo as We Know It'

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — some of whom have been held for six years — have the right to seek their release in federal court. The 5-4 decision was a stinging rebuke to President Bush's anti-terrorism policies, and reaction from law experts and Bush allies was swift.

"I think that the decision today is the end of Guantanamo as we know it," said Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal, who represents one of the detainees.

Andrew McBride, who wrote a brief on behalf of former GOP attorneys general siding with the administration, called it a watershed decision: "For the first time in history, it does inject judicial supervision into the conduct of war."

In essence, the court said to the Bush administration that it can continue with the flawed proceedings at Guantanamo, but when they are reviewed by the courts, the prisoners will have a full range of legal tools to challenge their detentions, and the burden of proof will be on the government.

"We'll abide by the court's decision; that doesn't mean I have to agree with it," said President Bush, who was in Rome.

In Washington, the chief judge of the federal district court, where some 200 cases are currently pending, called a meeting of the judges likely to hear the cases. There are still many questions unresolved, questions that will have to be sorted out first by the district court, and perhaps eventually by the Supreme Court: What is the standard of proof the government is required to meet? How long do detainees have to wait before they can challenge their detentions in court? What procedures will there be to protect intelligence sources and methods? How long will the government be given to produce the evidence against the detainees?

Also, the government has said roughly one-third of the detainees are not dangerous and have been approved for release to their home countries, but those countries don't want them, nor does any other country seem to want these people whom the U.S. once characterized as the worst of the worst. What will the courts do with them?

McBride contends that if no solution can be found, some of the men might be released into the United States. The courts, he argues, don't have the expertise to decide such questions.

"A wrong decision could be devastating to this country in terms of terrorist attacks," he said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.