The Guantanamo Detainees: Getting Heard

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Australian David Hicks was probably the first detainee to learn of the victory that he and the 594 other captives at Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba won last week when the Supreme Court ruled they had the right to petition U.S. courts for their freedom. His father phoned him the news. But being in solitary confinement, Hicks could not tell his fellow inmates, held for their suspected ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Few if any of the other captives have Hicks' privilege of a rare phone call from home, and U.S. officials have not decided whether, when or how to tell them about the court's decision.

Those are just some of the questions raised by the Guantanamo ruling, and by another one concerning Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen imprisoned since his capture in Afghanistan in 2001. In that case, the court decided that while the President can deem American citizens "enemy combatants," he cannot deny them access to a lawyer and a chance to answer the charges before a "neutral decision maker." The Supreme Court left it to the Bush Administration and lower courts to devise a way for Hamdi to challenge his detention.

So far, only lawyers for the 14 detainees who brought suit in the Guantanamo case have been given permission to visit their clients, and it's unclear how the other detainees will find legal representation. It's also unclear where hearings will be held for the flood of petitions from all the captives now seeking their release. Officials are considering shifting detainees to the U.S. mainland, since — contrary to the hopes of the Bush Administration — the court ruled that Guantanamo falls well within the reach of U.S. law. Government officials say it is not likely that any more detainees will be sent there, and military sources tell TIME that many could soon be released. "We're not in a good legal position," says a U.S. government official. "We have to minimize the heartburn."