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Supreme Court Rejects Guantanamo War Crimes Trials

Thomas said in another dissenting opinion that the Supreme Court "lacks jurisdiction" to consider Hamdan's claims because of that law and that "its opinion openly flouts our well-established duty to respect the Executive's judgment in matters of military operations and foreign affairs."

For the first time in his 15-year tenure on the court, Thomas took the unusual step of reading part of his dissenting opinion from the bench. The court's willingness "to second-guess the determination of the political branches that these conspirators must be brought to justice is both unprecedented and dangerous," he said.

Stevens wrote, however, that although the Detainee Treatment Act implicitly recognizes the existence of the military commissions, it "contains no language authorizing that tribunal or any other at Guantanamo Bay." Moreover, neither the act nor a congressional authorization for the use of military force against terrorists in 2001 "expands the president's authority to convene military commissions."

In a concurring opinion, Breyer strongly disputed the dissenters' assertion that today's ruling would, as Thomas wrote, "sorely hamper the president's ability to defeat a new and deadly enemy."

"The Court's conclusion ultimately rests upon a single ground: Congress has not issued the Executive a 'blank check,' Breyer wrote. "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."

He argued that far from weakening "our nation's ability to deal with danger," judicial insistence upon consultation with Congress "strengthens the nation's ability to determine -- through democratic means -- how best to do so."

The case raised core constitutional principles of separation of powers as well as fundamental issues of individual rights. Specifically, the questions concerned:

--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."

Hamdan was captured by Afghan militiamen in late November 2001 after the radical Islamic Taliban movement was driven from power in Afghanistan by U.S.-backed Afghan forces. He was subsequently turned over to U.S. authorities, who sent him to the U.S. detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba in 2002.

He acknowledged that he had worked as a bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden, whom he met in Afghanistan in 1996. But he denied having any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks carried out by bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

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