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High court ruling aids ‘war on terror’
Legitimizes military trials, U.S. prison at Guantánamo
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 70/No. 26July 17, 2006


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(lead article)
High court ruling aids ‘war on terror’
Legitimizes military trials,
U.S. prison at Guantánamo
Getty Images/Mark Wilson
U.S. troops at U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, watch a prisoner May 9 at notorious Camp Delta, where Washington holds “enemy combatants” indefinitely.

WASHINGTON—In a June 29 ruling the U.S. Supreme Court gave its stamp of approval to the Bush administration’s plans to conduct military trials of prisoners it has labeled “enemy combatants,” being held at the U.S. Naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The trials may proceed, the court said, so long as they conform to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and applicable sections of the Geneva Conventions, and the administration seeks legislative authorization. Administration officials said they would now seek legislation allowing them to proceed with these trials.

Senate majority leader William Frist announced he would introduce legislation on the tribunals after the July 4 recess.

Minority leader Harry Reid said he wants to work with the White House on crafting such a bill.

In the 5-3 decision, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the court said the military commissions, as structured by the administration, lack legislative authorization and violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and the Geneva Conventions.

The Supreme Court decision came on appeal by Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was captured during the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. Hamdan is alleged to have been a driver and bodyguard for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In June 2002 Hamdan was transported to the Guantánamo prison camp. A year later the Bush administration designated Hamdan for trial by a military commission. Later he was charged with one count of “conspiracy” for “terrorism.” The U.S. government is seeking military trials against 14 of some 490 individuals being held at Guantánamo Bay. Most have been locked up for more than four years without charges.

A week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Congress passed a resolution declaring that the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those “nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the attacks.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force, as it is known, gave the president “specific statutory authorization” to act along these lines on the basis of the War Powers Resolution. The Bush administration has argued that this included the power to convene military tribunals.

The Supreme Court ruled that while the 2001 Congressional resolution “activated the President’s war powers,” procedures for trying Hamdan and other Guantánamo prisoners already exist in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It stated that the president could proceed with military commissions if it either asked Congress for specific authorization to do so or followed the rules of regular military courts-martial.

The court ruled that the proposed military trials would violate international law by barring defendants from the proceedings and from learning what evidence was presented against them.  
Administration to seek legislation
Asked about the ruling during a June 29 press conference with Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, Bush said the ruling did not mean he had to release anyone from Guantánamo. The high court decision, he said, provides “a way forward with military tribunals” through working with Congress.

At the Justice Department’s briefing, senior administration officials said the court decision “emphasized that these problems can be cured and invited the president and Congress to do just that.”

In his concurring opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, “Nothing prevents the president from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary.”

Arlen Specter, a Republican and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill to do just that and said his committee would hold a hearing on it July 11.  
Praise of ruling by liberals
Applauding the ruling, the New York Times editors said June 30, “Rather than continue having his policies struck down, President Bush should find a way to prosecute the war on terror within the bounds of the law.” A Times news article said the ruling was “a historic event, a defining moment.”

“Today’s decision is a victory for the rule of law in the United States,” said Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It doesn’t get any better” Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said of the ruling. The center represents hundreds of those jailed at Guantánamo.  
Different praise by conservatives
A June 30 Wall Street Journal op-ed column by David Rivkin and Lee Casey, lawyers who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr., noted that the court agreed that military commissions “can, in appropriate circumstances, be used to try and punish individuals captured in the war on terror.”

They said the judges did not question the government’s authority to jail Hamdan, “or other Guantánamo prisoners, while hostilities continue. Nor did any of them suggest that Mr. Hamdan, or any other Guantánamo detainee, must be treated as civilians and accorded a speedy trial in the civilian courts.” The ruling, they concluded, “vindicates the basic legal architecture relied upon by the administration in prosecuting this war.”
Related articles:
Release all Guantánamo prisoners now!
Protesters in Miami: FBI framed ‘Liberty City 7’

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