High court overrules tribunals

WASHINGTON — Defenders of civil liberties hailed the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision July 1 that President Bush has no authority to try thousands of detainees in military tribunals at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at other U.S. military prisons around the world.

“The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law,” wrote Justice John Paul Stevens. He said the military tribunals cannot proceed because they violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions.

With Chief Justice John Roberts sitting glumly beside him, Stevens tore apart point by point the Bush administration’s claim that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack gives him unchecked powers to hold detainees without due process. Roberts had recused himself from ruling because he was a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals that upheld Bush’s arbitrary powers in the case last year. Voting with Stevens were Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer. Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred in a separate opinion, underlining his role as the “swing” vote in a number of recent decisions. Dissenting were justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents hundreds of Guantanamo detainees, said the ruling presents Bush with a stark choice. Either “try our clients in lawful U.S. courts or release them.”

“The game is up,” the New York-based legal advocacy group said. “There is no way for President Bush to continue hiding behind a purported lack of judicial guidance to avoid addressing the illegal and immoral prison in Guantanamo Bay.”

The CCR greeted the high court’s assertion that the detainees are protected under provisions in the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution requiring humane treatment of the detainees, hundreds of whom have been held incommunicado for years with no criminal charges. The group called for permanently closing down the Guantanamo prison.

Joelle Fishman, chairperson of the Communist Party USA’s political action commission, said, “Even this Republican-dominated Supreme Court could not ignore Bush’s blatant lawlessness in holding thousands of detainees without due process. This decision will strengthen the demand that the Guantanamo prison be closed.”

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “The Supreme Court has made clear that the executive branch does not have a blank check in the war on terror and may not run roughshod over the nation’s legal system. This decision moves us one step closer to stopping the abuse of power that has become a hallmark of this White House.” The ACLU, too, called for closing down Guantanamo.

The Republican leadership made clear they would attempt to turn this stinging rebuff to their advantage in the November election by introducing legislation to legalize the military tribunals. Any Democrat who dares vote against it would be pilloried as “weak” on national security if not as an al-Qaeda fellow traveler.

But attorney Chuck Michaels, an expert on the Patriot Act, told the World, “The Supreme Court’s sweeping decision undermines the Bush administration’s efforts to play the politics of fear. It further lowers the administration’s credibility. Bush is ignoring basic constitutional principles.”

Michaels, author of “No Greater Threat: America After September 11 and the Rise of the National Security State,” said it will be difficult to devise legislation that meets the stiff guidelines of the Supreme Court ruling. “This decision is grounded on basic constitutional principles,” he said. “I’m not sure Congress can write legislation that would satisfy the high court. Any attempt by Congress to validate the current tribunals will be subject to immediate challenge in the courts. Here we are in 2006 and not a single tribunal has been conducted from beginning to end for any of the detainees at Guantanamo who have been held since 2002. This decision gives more weight to the argument that the Guantanamo prison be closed.”

Max Obuszewski, a leader of the peace movement in Baltimore active with Iraq Pledge of Resistance, told the World it is sobering that a high court decision holding Bush accountable for the abuses at Guantanamo “was decided by one vote, Anthony Kennedy.”

“The basic issue here is due process — you’re innocent until proven guilty,” Obuszewski said. “We know the Bush administration is not noted for its veracity. They claim the detainees are ‘terrorists.’ Let us see the evidence!”

He too questioned whether the Republicans could ram through legislation legalizing Bush’s crimes. “This is an opportunity for Democrats to show some backbone. They should stand up and say, ‘This has gone too far! We’ve had enough!’”