SCOTUS to examine Guantanamo case
After revelations that the military's Combatant Status Review Tribunals might have been, shall we say, a bit of a farce, the Supreme Court overrode administration objections (and reversed its own April decision) and agreed to decide whether Guantanamo detainees can contest their detention in U.S. courts.
How unusual is this? Very.
The move to grant a motion for re-hearing in a previously denied case is rare. Court observers pointed to a 1968 case as the closest parallel to what happened Friday.
Back in April, three justices wanted to take the case: Breyer, Ginsburg and Souter. So this decision indicates that at least two other justices changed their minds. I'll just hazard a guess that their names are Kennedy and Stevens.
The case, which is expected to be heard in the fall, will be interesting on several levels. For one thing, it will involve the judicial branch ruling on the constitutionality of a legislative move stripping the judiciary of the power to hear detainee challenges.
Assuming the tribunal revelations were a triggering event, it could also indicate the court will take a jaundiced view of the administration's key defense: the tribunals themselves.
The detainees' attorneys want the appeals court to allow a broad inquiry questioning the accuracy and completeness of the evidence the Combatant Status Review Tribunals gathered about the detainees, most of it classified.
The Justice Department has been seeking a limited review, saying that the findings of the military tribunals are "entitled to the highest level of deference."
But the demand for deference assumes the tribunals were carried out with integrity and due regard for the rights of prisoners. Kangaroo courts deserve no deference.
Couple that with the recent reversal for the "enemy combatant" designation, as well as the dropping of charges against other detainees because they have not been designated "alien unlawful enemy combatants" as required, and it appears the whole Combatant Status Review Tribunal process could be nullified. That would require the United States to start over from scratch, proving that each detainee deserves to be detained.
Maybe this time around they'll give the detainees some basic legal protections instead of railroading them.
The administration's handling of Guantanamo has always been a practical and moral disaster; now it's becoming a legal disaster as well. Add another line to this administration's towering record of hubris and incompetence.
Update: It'll be interesting to see if the court's decision is made moot by a Congressional push to shut down Guantanamo. Probably not, as the prisoners wouldn't be released; they'd simply be transferred elsewhere.
civil liberties, Guantanamo, politics, midtopia