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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Constitution not just a rag

Breaking news from all media outlets, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 squeaker that the prisoners at Guantanamo actually have rights to challenge their detention in civilian courts and that you can't put someone in a cell and throw away the key. As Justice Kennedy put it:

"The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has defended many of the Guantanamo prisoners, explained the importance of the decision on its Web site.

The full decision is available here. But if you take the time to look at it, I would urge you to give priority to reading the dissents by Justices Roberts and Scalia. The majority decision, long as it may be, is simply based on reading the Constitution and judicial precedents. The dissents are convoluted attempts (particularly brazen in Scalia's case, as always) to allow the Bush administration to keep detainee cases out of the hands of federal judges--who clearly cannot be trusted to see things the administration's way. In other words, the government wanted to be able to keep prisoners at Guantanamo whether or not there was any evidence against them, the right stuff of tyranny.

The decision is not only a rebuke to the Bush administration, but also to the large majority of Senators and Representatives who voted for the 2006 Military Commissions Act which stripped detainees of their habeas corpus rights (Obama and Clinton voted against the act; McCain, one of the main architects of the act, voted for it. One can certainly hope that the Obama campaign will make something of that.) No one has satisfactorily explained why allowing detainees to challenge their imprisonment in the civilian court system compromises the "war on terror".

Maybe this is a sign that some truly extraordinary times can now begin (or that, re the previous post, democracy might be coming to the USA.)

Update: I see in the New York Times today that Obama has indeed made a point of his differences with McCain on this issue.

Afterthoughts: The Supreme Court based its ruling largely on the basis that Guantanamo is American jurisdiction. We have to hope that the decision will not prompt the Bush administration to step up "extraordinary rendition" of alleged terrorists, thus keeping them out of the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, although the political support in the U.S. and abroad for such manipulations is clearly diminished now--at least for those actions we know about.

Update (June 18): Glenn Greenwald takes apart John Yoo's Wall Street Journal op-ed attacking the decision. Important reading for understanding the importance of the decision.

1 comment:

Anne Gilbert said...

Occasionally, the US Supreme Court, as it is now constituted, actually gets something right. I was relieved that this time, they did(I heard the announcement earlier this morning over the radio as I was trying to get up while suffering from some upper respiratory crud).

A further note: Every time the Bush Administration has tried to strip away these rights and they are brought to court, it seems like the courts have told them to "go stuff it", essentially. The US Constitution still means something!
Anne G