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Terror No Match for U.S. Rule of Law
The Supreme Court hands down three important rulings on detention of terror suspects
Sean Hayes (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2004-07-12 10:49 (KST)   
The United States Supreme Court recently handed down three cases that will have a lasting affect on constitutional jurisprudence and immediately affect detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Many are being held without charges, access to courts and much hope of being released.

These cases drastically change the situation for the detainees. They still allow the government to detain the individuals, but gives detainees the vital right to contest their detentions in a federal court.

The cases

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, a plurality opinion and a concurrence, held that American citizen Yaser Hamdi may be held as an "enemy combatant," but he may challenge the government reasons for the detention.

Hamdi has been held by the government for over two years and was never charged with any crimes. He was captured in Afghanistan fighting alongside the Taliban. The government, in the case, contended that it could continue to hold Hamdi indefinitely if "some evidence" was presented to a federal court to justify its decision to designate Hamdi as an "enemy combatant."

Four justices were prepared to order Hamdi's immediate release since Congress did not authorize the detention. The view, however, did not receive a vote of a majority of justices.

Eight justices agreed that Hamdi was deprived of his due process rights because he was never given a "meaningful opportunity to be heard." The plurality opinion noted that a "state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

In Rasul v. Bush, a majority of the Court held that non-citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay have the right to file habeas corpus petitions in federal courts in order to challenge whether they were detained legally. The administration contended that Guantanamo Bay is still part of Cuba and the detainees had no right to challenge the legality of their detention in federal court since the federal courts do not have jurisdiction over non-U.S. soil.

The Court ruled that "the federal courts have jurisdiction to determine the legality of the Executive's potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be wholly innocent of wrongdoing." The case was remanded to the lower courts to determine whether the detentions at Guantanamo Bay are consistent with the "constitution and America's treaty obligations."

The Rumsfeld v. Padilla case was dismissed for being filed in the wrong district court. Jose Padilla is a U.S. citizen who was captured in the United States. If the case is re-filed, in the proper court, the case should be in line with the Hamdi v. Rumsfeld case.

The cases, as a whole, simply hold that an "enemy combatant" may be held, but they may challenge their detentions in court. The cases are a triumph for the American judicial system and the fight against terrorism.

A triumph for the war on terror

The cases are a triumph for the war on terrorism since the government can still hold suspected terrorists.

The right of the Executive Branch to hold "enemy combatants" who are perceived terrorists needs to be maintained. One of the roles of the Executive Branch is to act quickly. The Legislative and the Judicial Branches are inherently deliberative -- and accordingly slow to react.

The Executive Branch, on the other-hand, was designed to react to changing situations in society. As Alexander Hamilton stated in Federalist No. 70: "Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks. .."

The Executive after 9/11 needed a means to quickly implement countermeasures to one of the most dangerous threats to America and the free world.

After the capture of terror suspects, the Bush Administration quickly detained and sent the suspects to Guantanamo Bay. The Administration seemingly believed that charging these suspects and trying them would further endanger lives.

The Court maintained the right of the government to detain suspects, thus preserving the ability of the Executive to act quickly to changing situations.

A triumph for the rule of law

However, the Court limited this right to indefinitely detain by allowing judicial review. The United States is a country of law and the Court maintained the integrity of the judicial system by emphasizing the crucial issues in these cases.

The Court said, "[s]triking the proper constitutional balance here is of great importance to the nation during this period of ongoing combat. But it is equally vital that our calculus not give short shrift to the values that this country holds dear."

The Court thus preserved the fundamental characteristic of the American legal system -- that all individuals should have access to the courts -- while still maintaining the right of the Executive to act quickly against foreign attacks.
©2004 OhmyNews

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