The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected for the third time President Bush's policy of holding foreign prisoners under exclusive control of the military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ruling that the men have a right to seek their freedom before a federal judge.
The justices, in a 5-4 vote, said the U.S. Constitution enshrined the "privilege of habeas corpus" — or the right to go before a judge — as a safeguard of liberty. And that right extends even to foreigners who are captured in the war on terrorism, the court said, particularly when they have been held up to six years without charges.
"Within the Constitution's separation of powers structures, few exercises of judicial power are as legitimate or as necessary as the responsibility to hear challenges to the authority of the Executive to imprison a person," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said for the court. "The detainees in these cases are entitled to a prompt habeas corpus hearing."
You'd think that habeas corpus wouldn't be a "just by one" vote, but apparently Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas think that habeas corpus isn't all that important. Scalia even thinks that it'll kill people: "It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed," he said. How fair trials and due process will kill Americans is anyone's guess.
Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, praised the ruling. "This is an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus." He said the court had rejected Bush's "attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo."
Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate, said he had not had a chance to read the opinion but questioned its reasoning. "These are unlawful combatants. They are not American citizens," he said. He added, however, that he favored closing the prison at Guantanamo.
The justices said the detainees are entitled to a lawyer to represent them, and they will get a chance to rebut the evidence against them. But the court stopped short of deciding the law on whether militants can be held for as long as the government believes is necessary.
"It bears repeating that our opinion does not address the content of the law that governs (their) detention," Kennedy said of the prisoners. "That is a matter yet to be determined."