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 are unconstitutional.Well, it's nice to know that there are some limits to the god-like powers that President Superbush granted to himself. He can't just declare people to be "enemy combatants" instead of prisoners of war, he can't deny them the right to counsel, and he can't do an end-run around the Constitution by subjecting them to military tribunals.
In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized under U.S. law or the Geneva Conventions. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion in the case, called Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. recused himself from the case.
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.
Sadly, the conservative core -- Scalia, Thomas and Alito -- thought all of this was just fine. (And, in a stirring footnote to his dissent, Scalia not only supported the awesomeness of the president, but also recommended that he build a golden throne out of the bones of his vanquished enemies. Just a thought, but a stylish one at that.) Chief Justice Roberts would've been right alongside these three, but his earlier support for Bush in this case forced a recusal this time around.
I don't know about the rest of you, but the idea that the Court could be so closely divided on something that seems so basic to American principles of law is really creepy. I think I'll be sending Justice Stevens some heart-healthy Cheerios this week, as well as a warning to steer clear of any creme brulée.
But as the Post continues, the decision was close because it strikes directly at the Dear Leader approach of this administration:
The case raised core constitutional principles of separation of powers as well as fundamental issues of individual rights. Specifically, the questions concerned:So this would seem to be a clear rebuff to the Bush administration's belief that its branch is the ultimate decider in all things, and Congress and the courts can just cram it with walnuts.
# The power of Congress and the executive to strip the federal courts and the Supreme Court of jurisdiction.
# The authority of the executive to lock up individuals under claims of wartime power, without benefit of traditional protections such as a jury trial, the right to cross-examine one's accusers and the right to judicial appeal.
# The applicability of international treaties -- specifically the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war -- to the government's treatment of those it deems "enemy combatants."
Of course, it may take a while for that message to sink in. The president is speaking live on CNN right now, and promises to mull over the decision -- "once I've been fully briefed," he said -- and then his folks will work with Congress to implement it. Maybe.
I've got to go. The president is talking about how important democracy is. Really, it sounds fantastic.