Foreign Terrorists Have Constitutional Rights
- In a major blow to the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Thursday that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right under the U.S. Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.
The detainees affected by Thursday's ruling includes 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times." Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens joined Kennedy to form the majority.
In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts criticized his colleagues for striking down what he called "the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants." Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also dissented.
Scalia said the nation is "at war with radical Islamists" and that the court's decision "will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said his initial reaction is one of concern for U.S. troops on the battlefield:
If foreign enemies rounded up on the battlefield now have access to U.S. federal courts and have the same protections as American citizens under the Constitution -- "what does this say to an American solider who captures one of these terrorists on the battlefield... in terms of collecting evidence, the rights of the person that he's captured?" Hoekstra asked.
He was interviewed Thursday on Fox News, moments after the ruling came down.
The Bush administration -- faced with the problem of what to do with "enemy combatants" who wear no uniform and cannot be considered prisoners of war -- in 2002 set up a military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- putting the suspects beyond the reach of U.S. courts.
But in June 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the reach of the U.S. courts did extend to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that President Bush exceeded his authority when he ordered war crimes trials for Gitmo detainees.
Congress subsequently passed the Military Commissions Act in December 2006. The law established procedures governing the use of military commissions to try "alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States."
At the first military tribunal hearing -- which took place last week -- Khalid Sheik Mohammed requested a death sentence so he can become a martyr.
Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, has said he would close Guantanamo Bay, because it has projected an image around the world that is detrimental to America's reputation. "I would move those prisoners to Fort Leavenworth. And I would proceed with the tribunals," McCain told CBS News last year.
Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, also wants to close Guantanamo, but unlike McCain, he rejects military tribunals for the detainees:
"As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions," Obama said last summer in Washington. "Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists."
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