Foreigners held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay have the right, under the constitution, to challenge their detention in civilian courts, said the US Supreme Court.
On Thursday, predident Bush, to whom this decision is a setback, said he disagreed with the ruling but would abide by it.
“We’ll abide by the court’s decision. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.”
“It’s a deeply divided court and I strongly agree with those who dissented… and their dissent was based on serious concerns about US national security”, he said on a visit to Italy as part of his farewell European tour.
By a vote of five to four, the court ruled that detainees in the US jail in southern Cuba “have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus”.
“The laws and constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times”, said Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court.
His administration would “study this opinion … to determine whether or not additional legislation might be appropriate so that we can safely say, or truly say to the American people ‘we’re doing everything we can to protect you’“, said George W. Bush.
Rob Reynolds, Al Jazeera’s senior Washington correspondent, said in this very long running battle, the ruling was a very significant milestone.
The same constitutional rights
Guantanamo was chosen as it was not on American soil and so would be beyond the reach of the American justice system, explained Mr Reynolds, who said the decision was a victory for the proper system of justice.
Despite being officially on Cuban territory, the court ruled that the base was in fact operating as if it were on American soil and therefore detainees had the same constitutional rights as all Americans.
It is the third ruling on Guantanamo, that has gone against the Bush administration.
Now, detainees and their legal teams could demand that the government reveals the evidence against them, in order to justify their continued detention.
Arguing it would be against the interests of national security, the government has refused to do it.
Rights groups have questioned the legality of the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, and detainees have long protested that they had been mistreated.
But it was not immediately clear whether the ruling would lead to prompt hearings for the detainees, some of them have been held more than six years.
There are about 270 so-called enemy combatants remaining at the prison facility.