Four of America's most highly valued terrorist prisoners were secretly moved to Guantanamo Bay in 2003, years earlier than has been disclosed, then whisked back into overseas prisons before the Supreme Court could give them access to lawyers, The Associated Press has learned.
The transfer allowed the U.S. to interrogate the detainees in CIA "black sites" for two more years without allowing them to speak with attorneys or human rights observers or challenge their detention in US courts. Had they remained at the Guantanamo Bay prison for just three more months, they would have been afforded those rights.
"This was all just a shell game to hide detainees from the courts," said Jonathan Hafetz, a Seton Hall University law professor who has represented several detainees.
Removing them from Guantanamo Bay underscores how worried President George W. Bush's administration was that the Supreme Court might lift the veil of secrecy on the detention program. It also shows how insistent the Bush administration was that terrorists must be held outside the US court system.
Years later, the program's legacy continues to complicate President Barack Obama's efforts to prosecute the terrorists behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.