Supreme Court rules for enemy combatants; Bush loses big
American citizens held without their rights, all on the orders of President Bush
Supreme Court Affirms Detainees' Right to Use Courts
By DAVID STOUT
Published: June 28, 2004
WASHINGTON, June 28 — The Supreme Court ruled today that people being held by the United States as enemy combatants can challenge their detention in American courts — the court's most important statement in decades on the balance between personal liberties and national security.
The justices declared their findings in three rulings, two of them involving American citizens and the other addressing the status of foreigners being held at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Taken together, they were a significant setback for the Bush administration's approach to the campaign against terrorism that began on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker," an 8-to-1 majority held in the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi, a Saudi-born United States citizen seized in Afghanistan in 2001. Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the basic outlines of the decision.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that the campaign against terrorism notwithstanding, "a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."
In the Guantánamo case, the court ruled, 6 to 3, that federal courts have the jurisdiction to consider challenges to the custody of foreigners. The finding repudiated a central argument of the administration.
"Aliens at the base, like American citizens, are entitled to invoke the federal courts' authority," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority. "United States courts have traditionally been open to nonresident aliens."
The dissenters were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Thomas and Antonin Scalia.
And in the other case involving an American citizen, José Padilla, the court ruled on what at first glance was a technical issue: that Mr. Padilla filed his habeas corpus petition in the wrong court. A 5-to-4 majority said he should have filed in federal court in South Carolina, since he has been held in a brig in Charleston, rather than in the Southern District of New York.
The majority said, too, that the proper target for his case is not Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld but, rather, Cmdr. Melanie Marr, who is in charge of the brig. "This rule serves the important purpose of prevent forum shopping by habeas petitioners," the majority held.
Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the opinion, joined by Justices O'Connor, Scalia, Thomas and Anthony M. Kennedy. Justices John Paul Stevens wrote an emotional dissent that was joined by Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
Justice Stevens wrote that there was ample precedent for finding that the Southern District of New York, where a material-witness warrant was first issued for Mr. Padilla, was the proper court to take up the case, and he lamented that the majority seemed to sidestep the main issues.
"At stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society," Justice Stevens wrote. "For if this nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny."
The American Civil Liberties Union called the rulings historic and said they embodied "a strong repudiation of the administration's arguments that its actions in the war on terrorism are beyond the rule of law and unreviewable by American courts."
Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution, "reaffirms that even in a time of war, the president does not have the authority to act as a tyrant."
I think I can forgive the Supremes a little for imposing the Dauphin on us with this decision. They've rejected the imperial diktat of Bush and his aides and reaffirmed the right of people in US custody to have the right to a fair trial. Enough with this tribunal crap and secrecy. If these people are criminals, let's get them in a courtroom and try them before a judge and 12 citizens in the light of day. This is what Chief Justice John Marshall wanted to establish when he ruled on Marbury vs. Madison. That the government was subject to the rule of law, and not merely its own whims.
Bush, like many bullies, wanted to power to impose fear, not justice. He has set up a secret gulag of CIA jails and a large prison in Guantanamo in contravention of not only international law, but our own customs and laws. While the Republicans are circle jerking themselves over their fictional handover of power in Iraq (I say wait two days for the ZResistance response), everyone else is elated that the SCOTUS didn't fall for Bush's night and fog terror techniques. Bush wanted to abrogate the law in order to fight this "new war" and it isn't working. The idea that we could hold people in perpetuity is profoundly unamerican and just plain wrong.
Needless to say, the fact is that the US cannot make a case against most of these people and even the guilty ones have been tainted by the interrogation techniques and violation of their human rights. I want real terrorists jailed fairly, so we can say to the world we live up to our ideals. Not to use the techniques of dictators to prove our point. We can defend our democracy in the light of day, not in some self-created back alley.
posted by Steve @ 4:06:00 PM