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Overreach Overturned

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, June 30, 2006; 1:00 PM

Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling, definitively curbing the Bush White House's assertion of nearly unlimited executive power in a time of war, puts the other two branches of government back in business.

The Republican-controlled Congress, which has remained resolutely blind, deaf and dumb as President Bush took national security matters entirely into his own hands, now has little choice but to rouse itself to some sort of action.

And in reasserting the rule of law, the high court has opened the way to what could be major legal action over other executive branch violations of established statutes -- about domestic spying, for instance. The ruling even raises the possibility that U.S. forces and Bush administration officials could be tried for war crimes.

The rousing of the legislative and judicial branches is the ultimate nightmare of the unilateralists within Bush's inner circle, most notably Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, David S. Addington. They had argued that nothing -- not Congress, not the courts, not traditional notions of basic human rights -- should limit the president from pursuing the nation's enemies however he saw fit.

Worth watching closely: Whether the high court's decision will bolster the stature of other members of the administration, many of whom have reportedly had reservations about the Cheney-Addington approach all along. Or whether Cheney and Addington will continue to have Bush's ear, and will keep plotting in the shadows.

The Coverage

Here's the text of the ruling.

Linda Greenhouse writes in the New York Times: "The Supreme Court on Thursday repudiated the Bush administration's plan to put Guant?namo detainees on trial before military commissions, ruling broadly that the commissions were unauthorized by federal statute and violated international law.

" 'The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction,' Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the 5-to-3 majority, said at the end of a 73-page opinion that in sober tones shredded each of the administration's arguments, including the assertion that Congress had stripped the court of jurisdiction to decide the case. . . .

"In an important part of the ruling, the court held that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as Common Article 3 applies to the Guant?namo detainees and is enforceable in federal court for their protection.

"The provision requires humane treatment of captured combatants and prohibits trials except by 'a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people.' "

Charles Lane writes in The Washington Post: "Brushing aside administration pleas not to second-guess the commander in chief during wartime, a five-justice majority ruled that the commissions, which were outlined by Bush in a military order on Nov. 13, 2001, were neither authorized by federal law nor required by military necessity, and ran afoul of the Geneva Conventions.

"As a result, no military commission can try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the former aide to Osama bin Laden whose case was before the justices, or anyone else, unless the president does one of two things he has resisted doing for more than four years: operate the commissions by the rules of regular military courts-martial, or ask Congress for specific permission to proceed differently."

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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