Supreme Court Blocks Bush, Gitmo War Trials
Thursday, June 29, 2006; 2:04 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Bush overstepped his authority in ordering military war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees, saying in a strong rebuke that the trials were illegal under U.S. and international law.
Bush said there might still be a way to work with Congress to sanction military tribunals for detainees and the American people should know the ruling "won't cause killers to be put out on the street."
The court declared 5-3 that the trials for 10 foreign terror suspects violate U.S. military law and the Geneva conventions.
The ruling raises major questions about the legal status of the approximately 450 men still being held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba and exactly how, when and where the administration might pursue the charges against them.
It also seems likely to further fuel international criticism of the administration, including by many U.S. allies, for its handling of the terror war detainees at Guantanamo in Cuba, Abu Ghraib in Iraq and elsewhere.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said the administration's task now is mostly technical _ trying to determine how to design military tribunals that would pass muster under the decision. Republican senators said they would cooperate.
Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the court, said the Bush administration lacked the authority to take the "extraordinary measure" of scheduling special military trials for inmates, in which defendants have fewer legal protections than in civilian U.S. courts.
The decision blocked a trial for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan, 36, has spent four years in the U.S. prison in Cuba. He faces a single count of conspiring to commit terrorism against U.S. citizens from 1996 to November 2001.
It was a broad defeat for the government, which two years ago suffered a similar loss when the high court held the president lacked authority to seize and detain terrorism suspects and indefinitely deny them access to courts or lawyers.
Thursday's vote was split 5-3, with moderate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court's liberal members in most of the ruling against the administration. Chief Justice John Roberts, named to the lead the court last September by Bush, was sidelined in the case because as an appeals court judge he had backed the government over Hamdan.
Thursday's ruling, the final one of the court's term, overturned that decision. Justices began a three-month break after releasing the ruling. Six different justices wrote 176 pages.
The administration had hinted in recent weeks that it was prepared for the court to set back its plans for trying Guantanamo detainees.