Friday, June 30, 2006

The Supreme Slap-down

Well, it appears that one branch of the federal government is willing to function properly. In a 5-3 ruling (with Chief Justice Roberts not participating), the Supreme Court has determined that the Emperor's plans for military tribunals for Guantanamo Bay detainees are unlawful and beyond the scope of executive powers. The Defense Department (aka "The Department of Blowing Things Up") has decided the decision wasn't so bad and immediately began spinning the court's holding. From today's NY Times:

As the Supreme Court prepared to rule on the Bush administration's plan to try terror suspects before special military tribunals here, the commander of Guantánamo's military detention center was asked what impact the court's decision might have on its operations.

"If they rule against the government, I don't see how that is going to affect us," the commander, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris, said Tuesday evening as he sat in a conference room in his headquarters. "From my perspective, I think the direct impact will be negligible."

The Defense Department repeated that view on Thursday, asserting that the court's sweeping ruling against the tribunals did not undermine the government's argument that it can hold foreign suspects indefinitely and without charge, as "enemy combatants" in its declared war on terror.

Privately, though, some administration officials involved in detention policy — along with many critics of that policy — were skeptical that Guantánamo could or would go about its business as before. "It appears to be about as broad a holding as you could imagine," said one administration lawyer, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the ruling. "It's very broad, it's very significant, and it's a slam."
[Emphasis added]

A slam, indeed! The majority opinion made it clear that the US Constitution and the Geneva Conventions do indeed apply to Guantanamo Bay.

Thursday, in rejecting the administration's elaborate plan to try Guantánamo detainees by military commission, as the tribunals are called, the court struck at one of the first ramparts the administration built to defend itself against criticism that Guantánamo was a "black hole" in which men declared to be enemies of the United States were stripped of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

...In his majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said that the United States was legally bound by Common Article 3, as the provision is known (it is common to all four Geneva Conventions). He said the article "affords some minimal protection" to detainees even when the forces they represent are not signatories to the conventions themselves.

The military "commissions" as designed by the Emperor and his minions are a travesty, and the US Supreme Court noticed. The broad "war" powers claimed by the Emperor have no basis in law (the Court by implication noted that there has been no Congressional declaration of war in the first place) and the Court made that clear.

The GOP-led Congress is already scurrying to put together a bill that will pass Consitutional muster. Hopefully such a bill would provide for a real legal process for these prisoners, one that would not have secret evidence unavailable to defendants, one that will allow for an actual defense. If it doesn't, I suspect the Supreme Court will issue another slap-down.

Note: the full text of the holding and dissenting opinions is located here.


Anonymous Nora said...

As a technical matter, the Supreme Court did not decide on the whole question of whether Hamdan was an "enemy combatant"; that wasn't before them on this case.

However, they made it very clear that the "military tribunals" are unconstitutional and cannot be used. So either the Department of Defense didn't read the decision (and that was one of the more obvious and simple parts of the decision), or they are announcing in advance that they do not intend to follow the Constitution as interpreted by the only branch of the government whose job it is to interpret the Constitution.

The references to the Geneva Accords put the people acting in Guantanamo Bay, and their superiors, on notice that they continue to violate the protocols at their legal peril. IIRC, Stevens made reference to war crimes

6:40 AM  

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