A campaign to swiftly and permanently shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center began in earnest in late 2001. The individual most responsible for launching this initiative was Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Ratner recalls:
“The President [George W. Bush] had just issued a military order saying he had the power to indefinitely detain any non-citizen who he believed was involved in international terrorism. The idea that you could pick up people anywhere in the world and hold them forever without a trial is outrageous. We at [CCR] decided that we would represent the first people who were detained under that military order. In early January 2002, we got authority to represent David Hicks. … I started personally representing the [Guantanamo detainees] in the Supreme Court … Once we won in the Supreme Court case [see Rasul v. Bush, below], we got authorizations from family members to represent about 100 detainees.”
In 2002, Ratner and CCR filed habeas corpus petitions on behalf of a number of suspected Islamic terrorists. These petitions included, most notably, Habib v. Bush and Rasul v. Bush, both of which challenged the Bush administration’s contention that because the Guantanamo prison camp was located outside of U.S. jurisdiction, its inhabitants were not entitled to access American courts. CCR later combined both cases under Rasul v. Bush, which was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2004, and won an important ruling in that case on June 28, 2004. This CCR victory ultimately paved the way for the organization and its attorneys to gain direct access to the Guantanamo detainees. It also emboldened numerous law firms across the United States to lend their assistance to Ratner’s cause.
Also in 2004, Ratner went to the United Nations with British actor Corin Redgrave, who chairs the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission, and demanded the immediate closure of the detention center.
Other leftist organizations followed the lead of Ratner and CCR in condemning Guantanamo. These critics objected to America's use of an offshore prison, and to the unclear legal status of its detainees (who were classified as "illegal combatants" not entitled to Geneva Convention protections, rather than as prisoners-of-war or common criminals). The critics also contended that the detainees should be entitled to the protection of the constitutionally guaranteed civil rights given to prisoners incarcerated within the United States.