- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 14, 2008

Military trials for 19 top terrorism suspects, including al Qaeda master plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, will proceed despite a major Supreme Court ruling slamming the Bush administration’s handling of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said Friday.

But Bush administration officials and private legal analysts say huge question marks now hang over the fate of more than 200 “enemy combatants” at the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba. A deeply divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday the detainees have a constitutional right to seek their release in U.S. civilian courts.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Mukasey both expressed disappointment with the court’s ruling - the third in four years striking down the government’s system for detaining and trying foreign terrorism suspects.

The attorney general predicted that the decision will result in hundreds of legal challenges by terror detainees in federal courts.

“But I think it bears emphasis that the court’s decision does not concern military commission trials,” such as the one now hearing the case of Mohammed, Mr. Mukasey told reporters in Tokyo on Friday during a gathering of Group of Eight justice ministers.

But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, at a NATO meeting in Brussels, said Pentagon lawyers were still weighing “what we ought to do next” in light of the Supreme Court ruling. Mr. Gates has long said he wants to close the controversial prison, but concedes the government faces huge questions on how to deal with the roughly 270 inmates still held there.

In one sign of the new uncertainty, Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia announced plans to hold a special meeting of federal judges to address how the courts should handle what could be a flood of habeas corpus petitions from Guantanamo inmates.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, harshly criticized the court ruling.

He said federal judges are “hard-wired” to follow due process in their courts and will begin extending criminal rights and other protections to foreign terrorism suspects - a process that severely taxed the U.S. legal system in cases brought before September 11.

“If they don’t get any guidance from above, it’s going to be a legal crapshoot,” he said, with judges ill-equipped to consider the national security implications of their decisions.

But Shayana Kadidal, of the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, said the court ruling was a chance for the U.S. government to do what it should have done seven years ago - justify in a courtroom its reasons for holding those being held at Guantanamo.

“With habeas, you never would have had these men - so many of whom have been officially cleared for release by the military - locked up and abused because no court was watching,” he said.

Congress, which twice modified the detention policies in a failed bid to overcome Supreme Court objections, could step in again to create new “national security courts,” Mr. McCarthy said. But both critics and supporters of the administration’s detention policies predicted Friday that no major legislative change was likely before the November election.

The detainee issue could also assume a much bigger role in the presidential campaign, even though Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama have both called for the closure of Guantanamo.

Mr. Obama praised Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, but Mr. McCain called it “one of the worst decisions in history” during a town-hall meeting in New Jersey.

“These are people who are not citizens,” he said. “They do not and never have been given the rights that citizens in this country have.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide