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SCOTUS Grants Guantanamo Prisoners Habeas Corpus 1065

beebee and other readers sent word that the US Supreme Court has, by a 5 to 4 majority, ruled that the Constitution applies at Guantanamo. Accused terrorists can now go to federal court to challenge their continued detention (the right to habeas corpus), meaning that civil judges will now have the power to check the government's designation of Gitmo detainees as enemy combatants. This should remedy one of the major issues Human Rights activists have with the detention center. However, Gitmo is unlikely to close any time soon. The NYTimes reporting on the SCOTUS decision goes into more detail on the vigor of the minority opinion. McClatchy reports the outrage the decision has caused on the right, with one senator calling for a Constitutional amendment "to blunt the effect of this decision."
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SCOTUS Grants Guantanamo Prisoners Habeas Corpus

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  • About time... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by diewlasing ( 1126425 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:41AM (#23779213)
    Sudden outbreak of common sense?
    • Sudden? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AmazingRuss ( 555076 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:45AM (#23779283)
      How long have those guys been rotting down there? 6 years?

      • Re:Sudden? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by pjt33 ( 739471 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:59AM (#23779565)
        "Sudden" means that the change took place quickly, not that it wasn't delayed.
      • Re:Sudden? (Score:5, Funny)

        by gregbot9000 ( 1293772 ) <> on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:09PM (#23779747) Journal
        woo-hoo, Those detainees are going to be partying like it's 1679.
      • Even scarier... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ehrichweiss ( 706417 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:19PM (#23779985)
        What scares me more is that the ruling was 5-4 instead of unanimous.
        • The minority opinion (Score:5, Interesting)

          by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:49PM (#23780595)

          What scares me more is that the ruling was 5-4 instead of unanimous.
          I too am puzzled by the logic of the Minority opinion given how the issue is described by the NY times. The issue is actually quite a narrow one.
          1) Earier Supremes say it's okay for Bush to deny Habeous in US criminal courts so long as an alternative is provided that is substanially simmiar to the habeous right to contest incarceration.
          2) congress provides an alternative tribunal system that fulfills this requirement

          3) Said new tribunal turns around and refuses to hear any Habeous claims because it decrees the prisoners have no Habeous rights. (WILD!)

          4) Today's court ruling reverses that saying they do have habeous rights.

          The question then is Does it go back to the Kangaroo court or to a real crimminal court for hearing of habeous claims. I think this is the point of contention.

          Also here's a link [] to a longer slashdot post that talks about this:

        • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:56PM (#23780753)

          Read the dissenting opinion.

          Today the Court strikes down as inadequate the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants. The political branches crafted these procedures amidst an ongoing military conflict, after much careful investigation and thorough debate. The Court rejects them today out of hand, without bothering to say what due process rights the detainees possess, without explaining how the statute fails to vindicate those rights, and before a single petitioner has even attempted to avail himself of the law's operation. ... One cannot help but think, after surveying the modest practical results of the majority's ambitious opinion, that this decision is not really about the detainees at all, but about control of federal policy regarding enemy combatants.

          The game of bait-and-switch that today's opinion plays upon the Nation's Commander in Chief will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed. That consequence would be tolerable if necessary to preserve a time-honored legal principle vital to our constitutional Republic. But it is this Court's blatant abandonment of such a principle that produces the decision today...

          Bolding mine. How would anyone know if they've tried to use the courts if they haven't had access to them in the first place? And saying that Habeas Corpus isn't a "time-honored legal principal"?

          Amazing, isn't it?

          Quotes taken from here. []

    • by cutecub ( 136606 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:59AM (#23779579)
      A 5-4 decision means that the somewhat-sane members of the court outnumbered the completely-crazy members of the court by One Single Vote. We've got ourselves a Supreme Court that's divided on the meaning of some of the most fundamental aspects American law. This doesn't bode well for the next 30 years.

      • by terrymr ( 316118 ) <terrymr&gmail,com> on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:07PM (#23779709)
        Quite ... I was absolutely stunned by the statement of Scalia that "The saddest part" was that the government would have to prove the need to hold each and every person. Has this guy even read the constitution he's sworn to uphold ??

      • by radarjd ( 931774 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:11PM (#23779803)

        A 5-4 decision means that the somewhat-sane members of the court outnumbered the completely-crazy members of the court by One Single Vote. We've got ourselves a Supreme Court that's divided on the meaning of some of the most fundamental aspects American law. This doesn't bode well for the next 30 years.


        I'm not sure I agree with you. The court throughout its history has had 5-4 (or otherwise decided by 1 vote) cases because they seldom accept cases which aren't close. That is, if it isn't a legal point on which there's substantial disagreement, the Court won't grant cert. Moreover, members may concur in the result of the case, but not the legal reasoning, so they end up joining only certain sections of the majority (or plurality) opinion.

        Close cases will always be a part of the Supreme Court. I would say that is the way we want it, most of the time.

        In this instant case, I think more of the justices should have agreed with the majority, but they didn't ask me...

  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:45AM (#23779285)
    Ok -- so we capture people on the battle field in Afghanistan and take them prisoner. Bush &co. don't want to classify them as "prisoners of war," because then they'd get Geneva Convention protection.

    So, reaching back to FDR, they pull this "enemy combatant" thing out of their ass and say that now they can do whatever they want. Now, the Supreme Court is saying that "enemy combatants" are somehow criminals who are entitled to the protections of the civilian legal system.

    If they were just reclassified as POWs, then they could be held until the war is over -- which, like the war on drugs, it never will be. So, they could be held forever, without any need for a trial - because you can't be tried for "murder" or "conspiring to murder Americans" if you are a soldier in time of war.

    But yet, Bush &co still aren't going to want to reclassify them as POWs.

    Jeebus. I seriously can't wait to get a new administration that will just settle on what the status of these prisoners is so that we don't have to hear about this crap anymore. Want to keep them forever? Call them POWs. Want to try them to make some sort of b.s. point like Nuremberg? Then they get the protection of a court system.

    I'm really not seeing how they can have it both ways, but then again I'm not a lawyer -- just a human (usually an exclusive option).
    • by edheler ( 715806 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:52AM (#23779437)
      Is it possible to have POW's without a congressionally declared war?
    • by Rycross ( 836649 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:54AM (#23779479)
      I'd be fine with calling them POWs if we actually declared a war. Congress authorized the use of our military in Afghanistan and Iraq but we are not technically at war with anyone, and thus there's no way of knowing when the "war" ends. I vehemently oppose the idea that we should imprison people as war prisoners when there is no way of knowing when that war is over (and thus forcing us to imprison them indefinitely).
    • The Bush Administration's definition of "enemy combatant" was based on Ex Parte Quirin, which dealt with the German sabeteurs who landed on Long Island, New York [] during World War II. The Quirin case underscores why we need courts even for enemy combatants.

      You see, George John Dasch was one of the enemy sabeteurs, but he actually hated the Nazis. He took this to be a chance to defect to the US. Ernst Peter Burger, another one of the sabeteuers, was like-minded. The two of them tried very hard to turn themselves in, but were stopped by an unbelieving FBI. Dasch was only able to turn himself in when he threw $84,000 in mission funds onto the desk of a FBI agent. Under interrogation, he revealed the whole Nazi plan.

      But the FBI claimed it was their great work that lead to the capture of the Germans. All the Germans were placed on trial before a military tribunal. The original verdict was a recommendation of death, even for the man who turned the group in. Burger's sentence was commutted to life, and Dasch was sentenced to 30 years in prison. It was only after W.W.II ended that the truth came out, and they were released and deported to Germany.

      Without trial, the truth will never go out. As a democratic society, we have to dedicate ourselves to protect civil rights for all.
      • by StaticEngine ( 135635 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @01:18PM (#23781253) Homepage
        Massively Offtopic: In a very roundabout way, if the FBI hadn't acted exactly when they did and how they did, I would never have been born.

        My grandfather was an Electrician in the US Navy, and an American of German heritage. He was scheduled to ship out from NY to Africa to lay cabling for airstrips during WWII, but as he was about to board his ship, the "G-Men" grabbed him for interrogation to see if, as a German, he knew anything about his U-Boat off the coast of Long Island. He didn't, of course, and wasn't involved, but by the time the Feds were done with him, his ship had already left port, and he had to be reassigned.

        It turns out that his ship was sunk in the Atlantic by a Wolf Pack, and all hands onboard were lost. My Grandfather, of course, survived and went on to meet and marry my Grandmother, who gave birth to my Mother. Thus, I (and my Mother) owe my very existance to the odd actions and timing of the FBI at this point in history.
    • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:22PM (#23780035)
      While I don't doubt that some of the people in Guantanamo Bay are terrorists, I think that mistakes can occur. There might be people there that were wrongly imprisoned. The more the Bush fights against basic right to due process, the more I'm convinced that they are trying to hide their incompetence. When the administration says to me that if I have nothing to hide, I shouldn't object to being searched and monitored, I say that the reverse applies to them. If they haven't made any mistakes, why are they so against these people having a day in court?
  • by jamie ( 78724 ) * Works for Slashdot <> on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:49AM (#23779353) Journal

    Recommended reading that didn't make it into this story's writeup:

    Glenn Greenwald, Supreme Court restores habeas corpus []:

    In a major rebuke to the Bush administration's theories of presidential power -- and in an equally stinging rebuke to the bipartisan political class which has supported the Bush detention policies -- the U.S. Supreme Court today, in a 5-4 decision (.pdf), declared Section 7 of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 unconstitutional. The Court struck down that section of the MCA because it purported to abolish the writ of habeas corpus...

    Glenn Greenwald, Conservative vs. authoritarianism []:

    To our country's pseudo-tough-guy "conservatives," the very idea of merely requiring the Government to prove the guilt of the people it wants to imprison for life or execute is so intolerable, so offensive, that they want instead to release them all -- including detainees who are indisputably innocent -- onto a battlefield so that they can be slaughtered by our planes with no trial at all. [...]

    The question I put to him again and again was one that he simply couldn't answer: how and why would any American object to the mere requirement that our Government prove that someone is guilty before we imprison them indefinitely or execute them?

    The decision itself [], with my favorite passage being:

    Yet the Government's view is that the Constitution had no effect there [at Guantanamo], at least as to noncitizens, because the United States disclaimed sovereignty in the formal sense of the term. The necessary implication of the argument is that by surrendering formal sovereignty over any unincorporated territory to a third party, while at the same time entering into a lease that grants total control over the territory back to the United States, it would be possible for the political branches to govern without legal constraint.

    Our basic charter cannot be contracted away like this. The Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory, not the power to decide when and where its terms apply. Even when the United States acts outside its borders, its powers are not "absolute and unlimited" but are subject "to such restrictions as are expressed in the Constitution." Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U. S. 15, 44 (1885). Abstaining from questions involving formal sovereignty and territorial governance is one thing. To hold the political branches have the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will is quite another. The former position reflects this Court's recognition that certain matters requiring political judgments are best left to the political branches. The latter would permit a striking anomaly in our tripartite system of government, leading to a regime in which Congress and the President, not this Court, say "what the law is." Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803).

    In that passage, the Court upbraids the Bush administration, which sought this unconstitutional law and argued to uphold it, for claiming that the President has the right to "switch the Constitution on or off at will." The Court is absolutely correct about this, there is no doubt that this is what our current President has attempted. And the Court is correct that this is an attempt to circumvent the system of separation of powers that is at the heart of the "basic charter" on which the United States was founded.

    The fact that this decision was a slim 5-4 majority, with this President's two appointees making up half the dissenting view, is a frightening thought.

  • by Arrogant-Bastard ( 141720 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:49AM (#23779369)
    ...who are calling for a Constitutional amendment to bypass this decision. It's clear that their grasp of the fundamental human rights which pre-date and transcend even the Constitution's sweeping reach is limited, and that in their mindless fear, they've lost sight of why those rights are critically important. They have failed to live up to their sworn oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States -- and yet they have the audacity to wrap themselves in the flag and call themselves "patriots".

    They're the farthest thing from it. Real patriots understand why we must defend these rights, even at the cost of our lives -- because without them, we aren't the United States of America; we're just another transient tinpot dictatorship of no value and no lasting importance.

  • 5-4 Majority (Score:5, Insightful)

    by opusbuddy ( 164089 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:50AM (#23779393) Homepage
    What bothers me is that 4 Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States voted to suspend Habeas Corpus.
  • Sometimes you wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shma ( 863063 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:51AM (#23779407)
    I just wanted to call attention to a quote from one of the dissenting judges:

    Of the two dissenting opinions, Justice Antonin Scalia's was the more apocalyptic, predicting "devastating" and "disastrous consequences" from the decision. "It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed," he said. "The nation will live to regret what the court has done today."
    Keep in mind that he's talking about allowing people who have been held in detention for 6 years without even having been charged (let alone convicted) to challenge their detention. So explain to me how a man who doesn't even understand the concept of presumption of innocence is allowed to sit on the supreme court.
  • Time lag (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcelrath ( 8027 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:56AM (#23779509) Homepage

    So it takes approximately 7 years between blatently unconstitutional actions by one branch to be reviewed and overturned by another branch.

    Fortunately for Congress and the President, they can pass new laws and executive orders on time scales shorter than 7 years.

    In between lies the downfall of democracy.

  • Finally... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mandie ( 69148 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @11:57AM (#23779531)
    The SCOTUS just said, "Fine, you don't want to call them POWs, so now you have to go with the rules we use for people accused of crimes. Your choice, but you must choose one."

    For everyone who makes fun of trying suspected terrorists in "ordinary" criminal courts, if it's sufficient for bringing murderers with less grandiose motives to justice, it'll do for ones who think they're doing it for some great cause. Heck, it's possibly more insulting to treat them like common criminals, if that's what makes you happy.

    It's a great day to be an American.
  • by EWAdams ( 953502 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:01PM (#23779601) Homepage

    These fundamental freedoms are MORE important, not LESS important, during times of national stress. It is those times when cowards like Bush are most prepared to sell our freedom, so hard-won over the centuries, for the promise of a little temporary security.

    Guantanamo is Bush's Manzanar. In the hysteria of the time it might have seemed like the right thing to do, to a few frightened people. The judgment of history will be firmly otherwise.
  • by eepok ( 545733 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:01PM (#23779613) Homepage
    The public will "lose a bit more control over the conduct of this nation's foreign policy to unelected, politically unaccountable judges," he added.

    Now, correct me if I'm wrong, aren't Judges supposed to be insulated and protected from the political system by (1) not being held accountable for untainted, but bad, decisions (2) not be part of the election process since that would mean that they would then rule in whatever way would best protect their jobs?

    How in the WORLD would a chief justice of the supreme court not understand that?
  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:07PM (#23779725) Homepage
    I'm still shaking my head in disgust over a "warring talking heads" commentary on Canada's CTV network last night on this one. On the left, a Canadian professor who'd taught at Harvard. For the right, some guy I regret not catching the name of, from the conservative Hudson Institute. If it weren't the umpteenth time I'd seen it, I'd call it a classic example of the kind of brazen lying I've come to expect of these "think tanks".

    I'll skip details on the other ways the guy embarrassed himself to any thinking audience - he tried maligning the Canadian's credentials at American law until the guy mentioned teaching at Harvard, for instance.

    But towards the end, he actually said that the American constitution provides an exception to "for the Executive to suspend Habeas Corpus in time of WAR or insurrection" (emphasis mine). It doesn't. And there's no way a professional at that level made that big a mistake.

    The framers chose all their words carefully, and it says: []

    Section 9 - Limits on Congress

    The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

    INVASION, not War. What do Invasion and Rebellion have in common? Only then do you have entire armies on American soil harming its public. Only when you'd have to give whole armies habeas corpus can you suspend it. If you have few enough enemies to manage with a court system, they all get the court system.

    I guess I'm steamed because it was just the night before I learned the stat that not only did 70% of Americans at one point believe Saddam personally set up 9/11, but 80% of those supporting the Iraw war did so because of that belief. Which means that terrible damage can be done to America, not to mention hundreds of thousands of innocents, by lies such as the one I heard, espoused on TV, last night.

    I leave it to the Americans on /. to decide what you'd call a guy who'd lie about the content of your constitution to encourage and support the breaking of it.

    Oh, yeah, and one other part of the lie, one in support of their endless reaching for Executive power: the exception to habeas corpus is for the CONGRESS, not the Executive. The Executive can't suspend it at ALL, not unless Congress passes a law allowing it. The Executive simply can't break the law, period. Not under the Constitution.

    If you can keep it.

  • by mr_mischief ( 456295 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:22PM (#23780047) Journal
    Considering the Constitution of the United States was written largely by the same group who had written the Declaration of Independence, I think it is a difficult argument that the claims against the King would be allowed a pass for a new George.

    The Declaration of Independence states that certain rights are endowed upon men by their Creator and unalienable. Among those are Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness.

    The charges against King George which justified the revolution included, "He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power" and "For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences".

    The preamble to the Constitution itself lists one of the reasons for its ordination as to "establish justice".

    Article III section 2 states that the judicial power of the Supreme Court and the inferior courts extends to people including "a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects".

    The 5th Amendment provides for indictment by grand jury and due process of law. It makes an exception for those serving in the military during war or public danger, but enemy combatants whether on the field of battle lawfully or unlawfully are not serving in our military.

    The 6th Amendment requires that one be informed of the charges, to be confronted by witnesses against him, to have the power to subpoena witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel. No exception for military or maritime conditions are made in this Amendment.

    Considering all of these facts, and considering that the founders who wrote and supported the one document were the writers and supporters of the other, I find it difficult to believe that anyone could seriously question the legal status of people being held as criminals indefinitely under the power of the United States.

    The government specifically denied that these people were POWs. If they had been POWs, they could have been held until the end of hostilities with the countries in which they were captured. Being held as criminals, though, they have no fewer rights than American citizens under the US Constitution from what I can tell.

    There's nothing I've read in the Constitution which says that non-citizens under the government's jurisdiction are to be treated differently from citizens in matters of criminal law. In fact, while the Constitution at one time allowed the historic fact of brutal slavery and racial subjugation, the Articles and the Amendments make clear distinctions in many cases between the words "citizen" and "person", and most of the protections are for the more generic "person". Now slavery is properly banned by the Constitution. Foreign parties accused of crimes should not be treated any differently than citizens, or what have we learned?

  • Constitution 101 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:36PM (#23780329) Homepage Journal
    The Constitution doesn't give us rights. The government doesn't give us rights. We have rights, inalienable rights, that come from "the Creator", whatever that is. The creator is a mysterious, unspecified entity, but it is not the Constitution or the government.

    We, the people, create a government to protect those rights. In the USA, we (our forefathers) wrote a Constitution that our representatives explicitly agreed to support and defend. That Constitution creates a government from nothing, that protects those rights.

    Those rights are inalienable. Even when the government fails to protect them, we still have those rights. But unless they're protected, we might not have the freedom to exercise them. That is why we create that government, which has no other power or even existence other than as we create it under the Constitution.

    Americans aren't magically different from any other people. All people have the same inalienable rights. But what Americans have that is different is an American government that protects those rights. Foreigners have their own governments. It's up to them to protect their rights with their governments. Often they do not. But though it is in America's interest to help everyone we can to protect their rights, it is not automatically America's government's obligation to do so, unless Americans so instruct it. Even when we do, America is obligated to merely help those people free themselves , so they are free to create their own governments to protect their own rights.

    That is what is fundamentally wrong with the Iraq War. Wrong with any occupying American government abroad. It's what was right with the US conversion of Japan and Germany from their tyrannies after WWII: we worked for several years to free those people, who then created their own governments.

    But though we're not obligated to free anyone but ourselves, though our government is not obligated to protect anyone's rights but our own, our government is never free to violate those rights. The US government has no powers to violate any rights, except temporarily, according to explicit due process, and only when necessary to protect the rights of other Americans - like when jailing criminals, even suspending their rights to vote, freely travel and associate, and even to express themselves.

    Americans in foreign lands have reduced protection of our rights by our government, as a matter of practical fact, but not from any change in our rights themselves. Foreigners in foreign lands have foreign governments that factor into the US ability and obligation to protect their rights, which is minimal.

    But no one under control of the US, in US territory (including soverign military territory like Guantanamo) can see their rights infringed in any way.

    Sometimes that happens. Sometimes the people in the government break the law, violate the Constitution. The Constitution of course has the remedy: prosecution and jail time, even impeachment. The Constitution isn't just some theoretical philosophy, but the only instrument which creates legitimate government power. And its power does not differ in application to anyone on US soil (with the sole and irrelevant exception that a US president must have been born American).

    There shouldn't have been any question that Habeas Corpus must apply to everyone in US custody. But of course the 4 dissenting "Justices" in this case also installed George Bush as president. These people are part of a blatantly, flagrantly anti-American conspiracy among themselves to destroy America and everything it stands for.

    Everyone knows it. Lots of us say it. But only far too few of us have the courage and integrity to live it. And we, the Americans with a clear conscience, want to bring these evildoers to justice [].

    The Constitution. Dodging a bullet today that should never have been fired, that should have seen millions of Americans jumping to take the hit. The closeness of this call is just one 87 year old man away from making a total mockery of America as "the land of the free, the home of the brave."
    • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Friday June 13, 2008 @02:03PM (#23782117) Homepage Journal
      Moderation +3
          60% Informative
          20% Troll
          20% Insightful

      20% of your trusty moderators think defending the Constitution is "trolling". Probably because it points out that their heroes are the ones attacking the Constitution. When these people who hate America, and the way we protect our freedoms, hear the truth, they automatically counterattack. No matter how dishonest and cowardly is their method.

      These are the people we must defend our Constitution from. They're the ones we're talking about when we say "all enemies, foreign and domestic".
  • by oyenstikker ( 536040 ) <> on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:55PM (#23780737) Homepage Journal
    From the McClatchy article:

    A dejected Sen. Lindsey Graham blasted the Supreme Court's ruling Thursday on Guantanamo Bay detainees, calling it "dangerous and irresponsible."

    It is not the job of SCOTUS to be safe and responsible. It is the job of SCOTUS to knock down unconstitutional laws.

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