Thursday, June 29, 2006

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Guantanamo Military Trials

The United States Supreme Court today rejected the Bush administration's Guantanamo military detainee commissions. I previously blogged about this term's blockbuster cases here. The Post's William Branigin has the background:

The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions violate U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war prisoners. In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized by any act of Congress and that their structure and procedures violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion in the case, called Hamdan v. Rumsfeld . Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. recused himself. The ruling, which overturned a federal appeals court decision in which Roberts had participated, represented a defeat for President Bush, who had ordered military trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. About 450 detainees captured in the war on terrorism are currently held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. Trying them before military commissions would place them under greater restrictions and afford them fewer rights than they would get in federal courts or regular military courts. Bush said he would consult with Congress to seek "a way forward" after the ruling, which reversed the appeals court ruling on statutory grounds, avoiding major constitutional issues. Answering questions at a news conference with the visiting Japanese prime minister, Bush said, "The American people need to know that this ruling, as I understand it, won't cause killers to be put out on the street. . . . I'm not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people. . . . I will protect the people and at the same time conform with the findings of the Supreme Court." Bush added, "I want to find a way forward. In other words, I have told the people that I would like for there to be a way to return people from Guantanamo to their home countries. But some people need to be tried in our courts, and the Hamdan decision was the way forward for that part of my statement." The case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 36-year-old Yemeni with links to al-Qaeda, was considered a key test of the judiciary's power during wartime and carried the potential to make a lasting impact on American law. It challenged the very legality of the military commissions established by President Bush to try terrorism suspects.
Bush had been moving to close Guantanamo, in any case, and the court's ruling was largely expected -- and the closing may in fact provide face-saving cover for the administration, even though some of the world's most hardened terrorists are being held there.

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