Press Releases

New York City Bar Association Opposes Bill’s Provisions Prohibiting Federal Trials of Guantanamo Detainees


Eric Friedman
(212) 382-6754

Kathryn Inman
(212) 382-6656

New York City Bar Association Opposes Bill’s Provisions Prohibiting Federal Trials of Guantanamo Detainees

New York, March 22, 2011 – The New York City Bar Association has written to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, expressing “profound concern” with sections of the 2011 Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act that would prohibit the use of appropriated funds for the transfer of a non-citizen held at Guantanamo Bay to the United States for any purpose, thereby preventing Guantanamo detainees from being tried in federal courts.

A similar provision was adopted, over the strong objection of the Executive Branch, as part of the defense appropriations bill in December 2010. The City Bar opposed that provision as well.

The letter, signed by City Bar President Samuel W. Seymour, states that the bill’s provisions “would raise grave questions under our system of separation of powers. Moreover, for Congress to dictate the means for prosecuting a specified person or group of persons may raise serious constitutional issues. Further, this bill would tend to prolong the stalemate over how and where to prosecute those Guantanamo detainees whom the Administration has identified as being subject to prosecution. Such a result—further delay in bringing accused terrorists to justice—would be at odds with our society’s strong interest in prosecuting, punishing, and passing moral judgment on those who have engaged in terrorist acts in violation of our laws. It would also exacerbate the military and propaganda risks, and the damage to our nation’s reputation, arising from continuing operations at Guantanamo.”

According to the letter, federal courts have done an excellent job in handling terrorism cases: “In fact, military commissions have been largely unsuccessful in reaching any final verdicts or sentences in recent years. In contrast, the federal courts have established their fairness and effectiveness through their operation over more than two hundred years, and demonstrated their specific capacity to deal with terrorism crimes over the last two decades. Indeed, since September 11, 2001, over 300 individuals charged with terrorism crimes have been successfully prosecuted and sentenced in federal court, with more than 30 convicted in 2009 alone.”

Absent the ability to transfer detainees for habeas review by the courts, the Executive Branch would have essentially no way to remove detainees from Guantanamo who have been determined not to warrant prosecution or further detention by the United States, the letter argues. “If detention is within the Executive Branch’s authority, then it surely follows that decisions to release or transfer prisoners must likewise be made by the President subject, in appropriate cases, to habeas review by the courts,” the letter states. 

The letter may be read here:

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About the Association
The New York City Bar Association (, since its founding in 1870, has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law and providing service to the profession and the public.  The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged.  Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.