(CNN) The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday strongly limited the power of the Bush administration to conduct military tribunals for suspected terrorists imprisoned at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The 5-3 ruling means officials will have to come up with a new policy to prosecute at least 10 so-called “enemy combatants” awaiting trial — it does not address the government’s ability to detain suspects.
Mystech: So with the presidential administration in violation of the Geneva Convention, the Constitution of the United States and US Military law” that would make them … starts with a “c”, ends with an “s” and has a “riminal” in the middle. Quick! Fire up the fear and paranoia campaign again!
The case was a major test of Bush’s authority as commander-in-chief during war. Bush has aggressively asserted the power of the government to capture, detain, and prosecute suspected terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.At the center of the dispute was a Yemeni man, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who officials said admitted he was al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s driver and bodyguard.
“The military commission at issue is not expressly authorized by any congressional act,” said Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority. The tribunals, he said, “must be understood to incorporate at least the barest of those trial protections that have been recognized by customary international law.”
“In undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, the executive (Bush) is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction,” Stevens said.
“Congress has not issued the executive a ‘blank check,'” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a concurring opinion. “Indeed, Congress has denied the president the legislative authority to create military commissions of the kind at issue here. Nothing prevents the president from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary.”
At a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, President Bush said that he had not had a chance to review the ruling. He said, however, he would take the ruling seriously.
“To the extent 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,” Bush 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,” he added.
Dissenting were justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, each of whom entered separate opinions.
Scalia called the court’s reasoning a “mess,” while Thomas wrote that the ruling will “sorely hamper the president’s ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy
“The president’s decision to try Hamdan before a military commission for his involvement with al Qaeda is entitled to a heavy measure of deference,” said Thomas.
“It seems clear that the commissions at issue here meet the standard” established by the government to try the accused terrorists, Alito wrote.
Chief Justice John Roberts did not participate in the case because he ruled on the case, in favor of the government, at the appellate level.
Hamdan’s lawyers argued that Bush exceeded his authority by setting up military commissions to try terrorist suspects, whom the administration terms “enemy combatants,” rather than prisoners of war. (Watch military lawyer defend terror suspect — 2:18)
They also argued that the government’s charge of conspiracy against Hamdan is not allowed under international standards of law for prisoners of war, and that earlier federal courts had rejected that standard as well, since it was too broadly defined.
The administration’s position was that the term means detainees do not have the rights traditionally afforded prisoners of war, as outlined in the Geneva Conventions.
The enemy combatant designation, according to the Bush administration, means the suspect can be held without charges in a military prison without the protections of the U.S. criminal justice system, such as the right to counsel — a status the court rejected.
The Guantanamo Bay facility opened in 2002 and holds about 460 men suspected of links to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
President Bush on Wednesday said he was considering shutting the facility, and would decide after the court ruled. “I’d like to end Gitmo, like it to be over with,” he said at a European Union summit in Vienna.
“One of the things we will do is that we will send people back to their home countries. We have about 400 people left; 200 have been sent back. There are some who need to be tried in U.S. courts,” Bush said. “They are cold-blooded killers. They will murder somebody if they are let out on the street. And yet we believe there ought to be a way forward in the court of law.”
Many world leaders have pressured Bush to close the camp.