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Supreme Court declines to hear case of terror suspect held in Gitmo without trial since 2001

The Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of a detainee at the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention facility who has been held for 17 years without a trial.

Saudi-born Yemeni citizen Moath Hamza al-Alwi was arrested in Pakistan in October 2001 and turned over to American forces. He was suspected of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. The United States government has not filed formal charges against him. Lawyers for the Justice Department have accused al-Alwi of being part of the Taliban and said that he took part in the fighting against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Since the Supreme Court punted on this case, an earlier ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia stands, meaning that al-Alwi will remain in prison while “armed hostilities between United States forces and [the Taliban and al-Qaeda] persist.” Justice Brett Kavanaugh recused himself because before he was confirmed to the Supreme Court, he sat on the DC District Court, which ruled on the case previously.

Justice Stephen Breyer issued a statement on the denial of certiorari, saying he thinks the court should address the overarching issue of detainees held long-term in facilities like Guantanamo. He said that the court’s 2004 Hamdi v. Rumsfeld decision that the United States may hold suspected enemy combatants indefinitely while a war is ongoing should be revisited, since the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has been going on for nearly two decades. The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has been reduced since 2015, after former President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. “combat mission in Afghanistan is over,” but roughly 14,000 are still deployed there.

"Al-Alwi faces the real prospect that he will spend the rest of his life in detention based on his status as an enemy combatant a generation ago, even though today's conflict may differ substantially from the one Congress anticipated when it passed the AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force]," Breyer said.

“I would, in an appropriate case, grant certiorari to address whether, in light of the duration and other aspects of the relevant conflict, Congress has authorized and the Constitution permits continued detention.”

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