Bush Blocked: SCOTUS Rules Against Gitmo Trials

Good news in from ABC News: The US Supreme Court just ruled 5-3 that GWBush overstepped his powers in making plans for war-crimes trials of 10 inmates from the nation’s torture camp military-managed prison at Guantánamo Bay.

The case before the nation’s highest court dealt with the fair treatment of detainees at scandal-ridden Guantánamo. Bush wants to try prisoners — most suspected of involvement with al-Qaeda or the Taleban and many, if not most, believed by human-rights organizations to be innocent of any crime — under military law and in military tribunals, which don’t require the burden of proof needed in civilian criminal cases.

Today’s ruling rebuked Bush, declaring his military-trial plan illegal under both US law and the Geneva Convention. In his opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy sided with the majority, writing, “Trial by military commission raises separation-of-powers concerns of the highest order.”

Imagine: sense in the SCOTUS.

From the New York Times (after the ruling):

The case focused on Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan, 36, has spent four years in the US prison in Cuba. He faces a single count of conspiring against US citizens from 1996 to November 2001.

Two years ago, the court rejected Bush’s claim to have the authority to seize and detain terrorism suspects and indefinitely deny them access to courts or lawyers. In this follow-up case, the justices focused solely on the issue of trials for some of the men.

The vote was split 5-3, with moderate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court’s liberal members in ruling against the Bush 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.

[This morning’s] ruling overturned that decision.

The BBC reports that many legal experts say the overturn will make cases against Guantánamo inmates exceedingly hard for the US government to win because there often is no admissible evidence against defendants.

The ruling also could help determine the future of the Cuban-based facility. Human-rights activists around the world are calling for its closing, because of torture incidents and recent prisoner suicides at the camp. Bush addressed that issue prior to the SCOTUS decision, saying, “I’d like to close Guantánamo…. I also recognize that we’re holding some people that are darn dangerous.” With military trials beyond his authority, any defendants would have to be tried in US courts. Bush told reporters that he will continue working for the use of military tribunals for Gitmo detainees through legislative channels.

“To the extent that there is latitude to work with the Congress to determine whether or not the military tribunals will be an avenue in which to give people their day in court, we will do so,” he said. “The American people need to know that the ruling, as I understand it, won’t cause killers to be put out on the street.”

In an effort to head off the Shrub, the Friends Committee on National Legislation has prepared this action alert for those of us who want any detainees charged to receive fair, civilian trials.

The Court has spoken. Now Congress needs to act to help restore the checks and balances designed into the US system of government by the framers of the Constitution. Nearly every week the press offers new findings about a sweeping system of government spying programs established and operated without review by any court and hidden from most members of Congress. Here’s what we know so far:

# The National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting the records of every phone number dialed by nearly 200 million people in this country over the last five years;

# The Treasury Department has tapped into the vast database maintained by a Brussels-based clearinghouse for financial transactions to gather information on tens of thousands of people without a court warrant or judicial review; and

# The NSA is reportedly developing tools to spy on the 80 million people who use online networking communities such as MySpace and Facebook.

These surveillance programs are not focused narrowly on suspect individuals but are broad data-gathering operations that collect information on hundreds of millions of people without court review or congressional oversight. FCNL is particularly concerned that Sen. Arlen Specter has proposed dangerous new legislation (S. 2453) that would permit the National Security Agency to continue its spying program without court review for as long as the president deems it necessary.

Rather than rubber-stamping the president’s program with new legislation, Congress should investigate these programs and insist that the president follow existing law which requires the NSA to seek warrants through the FISA court.

Let your lawmakers know how you feel about Bush’s pattern of overstepping his authority. Tell senators to withhold support from S. 2453. And tell them that every suspect deserves a fair trial before peers.You can reach House and Senate members via the Congressional Switchboard, 202-224-3121.

It remains to be seen whether the Guantánamo camp will be able to close; today’s decision did not cover that aspect of the matter. One thing, however, is sure: The Supreme Court is on record as saying that the Bush administration has gone too far in furthering its agenda. I suspect this won’t be the last time the panel makes that statement.

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