X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Bush overstepped his authority in ordering military war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees, saying in a strong rebuke that the trials were illegal under U.S. and international law. Bush said there might still be a way to work with Congress to sanction military tribunals for detainees and the American people should know the ruling ”won’t cause killers to be put out on the street.” The court declared 5-3 that the trials for 10 foreign terror suspects violate U.S. military law and the Geneva conventions. The ruling raises major questions about the legal status of the approximately 450 men still being held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba and exactly how, when and where the administration might pursue the charges against them. It also seems likely to further fuel international criticism of the administration, including by many U.S. allies, for its handling of the terror war detainees at Guantanamo in Cuba, Abu Ghraib in Iraq and elsewhere. White House counselor Dan Bartlett said the administration’s task now is mostly technical — trying to determine how to design military tribunals that would pass muster under the decision. Republican senators said they would cooperate. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the court, said the Bush administration lacked the authority to take the ”extraordinary measure” of scheduling special military trials for inmates, in which defendants have fewer legal protections than in civilian U.S. courts. The decision blocked a trial for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan, 36, has spent four years in the U.S. prison in Cuba. He faces a single count of conspiring to commit terrorism against U.S. citizens from 1996 to November 2001. It was a broad defeat for the government, which two years ago suffered a similar loss when the high court held the president lacked authority to seize and detain terrorism suspects and indefinitely deny them access to courts or lawyers. Thursday’s vote was split 5-3, with moderate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court’s liberal members in most of the ruling against the administration. Chief Justice John Roberts, named to the lead the court last September by Bush, was sidelined in the case because as an appeals court judge he had backed the government over Hamdan. Thursday’s ruling, the final one of the court’s term, overturned that decision. Justices began a three-month break after releasing the ruling. Six different justices wrote 176 pages. The administration had hinted in recent weeks that it was prepared for the court to set back its plans for trying Guantanamo detainees. The president also has told reporters, ”I’d like to close Guantanamo.” But he added, ”I also recognize that we’re holding some people that are darn dangerous.” The court’s ruling says nothing about whether the prison should be shut down, dealing only with plans to put detainees on trial. ”Trial by military commission raises separation-of-powers concerns of the highest order,” Kennedy wrote in his opinion. ”Concentration of power (in the executive branch) puts personal liberty in peril of arbitrary action by officials, an incursion the Constitution’s three-part system is designed to avoid.” The prison at Guantanamo Bay, erected in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, has been a flash point for international criticism. Hundreds of people suspected of ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban — including some teenagers — had been swept up by the U.S. military and secretly shipped there since 2002. Three detainees committed suicide there this month, using sheets and clothing to hang themselves. The deaths brought new scrutiny and criticism of the prison, along with fresh calls for its closing. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a strongly worded dissent from Thursday’s ruling and took the unusual step of reading part of it from the bench — something he had never done before in his 15 years. He said the court’s decision would ”sorely hamper the president’s ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy.” The court’s willingness, Thomas wrote in the dissent, ”to second-guess the determination of the political branches that these conspirators must be brought to justice is both unprecedented and dangerous.” Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito also dissented. In his own opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said, ”Congress has not issued the executive a ‘blank check.”’ ”Indeed, Congress has denied the president the legislative authority to create military commissions of the kind at issue here. Nothing prevents the president from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary,” Breyer wrote. Justices also rejected the Bush administration’s claim that the case should be thrown out on grounds that a new law stripped the court’s authority to consider it, and that Hamdan should not have been allowed to appeal until after the conclusion of his trial. The court said the law passed last year to limit lawsuits by Guantanamo detainees does not apply to pending cases like the one brought by Hamdan. ”It’s certainly a nail in the coffin for the idea that the president can set up these trials,” said Barbara Olshansky, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents about 300 Guantanamo detainees. Hamdan has claimed he is innocent and worked as a driver for bin Laden in Afghanistan only to eke out a living for his family. Stevens suggested that the administration would be best off trying Hamdan and others before regular military courts-martial trials. The case is Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 05-184.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.