Detainees Given Trial Rights; Ruling Affects Prisoners at Guantanamo, Cuba
Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Federal judges in the District could order some detainees to be released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after weighing security concerns and the evidence against them, according to a Supreme Court ruling released Thursday.
In a 5-4 decision that marked the court's third reproach of the Bush administration's treatment of terrorism suspects, the court ruled that the detainees - some of whom have been imprisoned for six years without charges being brought against them - are entitled to have their cases heard in federal courts.
"The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times," said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the court's majority.
In dissent, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the ruling "strikes down as inadequate the most generous set of procedural protections ever af forded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants."
Legal experts said the court's ruling redefines the rights of military detainees.
Their cases will be heard in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, according to Royce C. Lamberth, the court's chief judge.
President Bush, who was traveling in Europe Thursday, said he disagreed with the court's ruling but would abide by it. "It was a deeply divided court, and I strongly agree with those who dissented," he said.
Mr. Bush said his administration would study the ruling and consider new legislation to mitigate the ruling's effects.
"We'll do this with this in mind - to determine whether or not additional legislation might be appropriate so we can safely say to the American people, 'We're doing everything we can to protect you,'[TFI]" the president said.
After the Supreme Court issued two earlier rulings that rebuked the administration's handling of detainees, Congress changed the law to allow the detentions to continue without trials.
The court's ruling restored the detainees' rights under habeas corpus, a centuries-old right that allows people to challenge their imprisonment. But the ruling itself doesn't allow for them to be released immediately.
Additionally , the ruling cast doubt on whether the military tribunals set up to try the detainees will proceed. Currently, 19 detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of plotting the Sept. 11 , attacks, are facing trial by tribunal - and the Pentagon has said it plans to try as many as 80 detainees at Guatanamo.
"It's the first time the Supreme Court has said the Constitution protects the right" to a civilian court hearing for military detainees, said Steve Vladeck, an American University law professor who co-authored a legal brief supporting the prisoners' right to trial.
About 270 men are imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba after having been classified as enemy combatants and held on suspicion of links to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Much of the evidence the government used to justify the detentions has been kept secret for national security reasons, and the ruling could force the government to reveal some of the information, said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University Law School professor who testified before the Senate last year on constitutional rights of detainees. …