And here I thought I was going to return to McCain today! Though he won’t entirely be off the hook. See why later.
As most ought to know by now, the Supreme Court today ruled 5-4 that detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba must be allowed to apply for a writ of habeas corpus. That cherished right of those finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, to challenge the legitimacy of their imprisonment, has for several years been the subject of debate as to whether it can be applied to non-citizens and enemy combatants.
The ruling today basically says that those being held in Guantanamo Bay must be allowed access to habeas corpus rights, because the Military Commissions Act did not provide an alternative for those held to challenge their detention. Note that it does not say that habeas corpus must be allowed, just that there has to be an alternative. It also does not end military commissions.
Most conservatives seem to have decried the ruling as a win for the terrorists, while most liberals have lauded it as a win for justice.
Personally, I think it’s a good ruling. Call me a terrorist sympathizer if you wish, but the idea of holding somebody indefinitely without an ability to challenge their detention just seems…well, there is no other word for it…un-American.
Here in the United States of America, we cherish our right to be able to challenge our detention, to have lawyers, and to expect that we’ll be fairly heard in court. Yet, while the Bush administration tries to tell us that terrorists are enemies of freedom and democracy, they would seemingly send mixed messages by telling their detainees that they will be held indefinitely? I thought we were supposed to be telling those in the Middle East that this kind of behavior is wrong. Behavior only practiced by the likes of dictators and tyrants.
No, I’m not calling the government a tyrant or a dictatorship. I believe that many of the people held at Guantanamo Bay probably have a good reason to be there. Then again, like in the civilian justice system, some simply should not be there. They might be innocent; caught up in the midst of a war going on around them, or the charges against them simply are not enough to have them held at Guantanamo. Then again, those that do need to be there need to be charged and sentenced. Yet, as of today, only three of the trials have gotten anywhere, and among them, two people were acquitted, and one was sent back to his native Australia to serve out a reduced sentence.
So, the detainees deserve the right to challenge their detention, and if the DoD is not going to provide an alternative to habeas corpus, they need something. Given that the administration is on its last months, and given the they already have an opposition to this kind of thing, I don’t think they’d have time or will to set up an alternative, though I’m sure they’ll try. I’m guessing Republicans in Congress will also make an attempt, though I doubt it’ll get through the Democratic majority. So, habeas corpus is likely to be the law of detainee challenge from here on out.
So, what’s the political fallout from this for our two major Presidential contenders? It might impact John McCain’s chances in a slight to moderately negative way, since he was a pretty vocal proponent of the Military Commissions Act. People might see this ruling as a rebuff to his attempts to get it passed, and view him as not knowing the right ways to conduct the detention of detainees. I don’t say it’ll impact him in a big way since I think a lot of people have already made up their mind on whether or not he’s been right on the conduct of detainee treatment. Then again, those of who’ve been following McCain know he’s been swapping back and forth in his positions on this subject quicker than John Kerry can flip-flop on voting for war funding.
On the opposite side, it’ll also impact Obama’s chances slightly to moderately, given that most of the negative from McCain will probably become a positive for Obama. He’s always been against the banning of habeas rights for detainees, so it might serve as a slight bump to him.
As for the Bush administration, this is a pretty big blow for them. Their entire argument for detainees not allowing access to civilian courts has just been destroyed, and I think it will be a signal to future presidents to not hold enemy combatants in this way again. I don’t think we’ll see future terrorists being held as POws, as that would severely limit how they could be questioned. I suspect we could see the normal extradition process being used, after which they could be tried in a U.S. court. Of course, this might not work if the country in question were unfriendly to us. So, I have no certain answer of how enemy combatant situations might be done in the future.
All in all, I think the ruling is for the best of the U.S. Freedom to question your detention is a paramount tenet of the U.S. judicial system, and it is hypocritical to deny it to someone just because they’re an enemy combatant. Though there is good reason to charge a lot of the people in Guantanamo, holding them indefinitely without having a way to find out who should actually be there is wrong.