The Supreme Court on Wednesday is hearing arguments on whether foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in civilian courts. The decision, expected in June, will determine whether the Bush administration can continue holding “enemy combatants” indefinitely. (AP via Time.com)
What the commentators said
A lot is at stake here for President Bush, said Jess Bravin in The Wall Street Journal (via Google News). A decision to deny these prisoners the right to challenge their detention “could validate the administration's view that, as a legal matter, the entire world is the battlefield in its war on terrorism.” If the justices rule the other way, it could cause “scores of prisoners to air claims of wrongful imprisonment.” Either way, this case “will help shape the president's legacy.”
The right to challenge one’s detention before a judge—habeas corpus—is one of the most basic rights in our system, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial (free registration). The Supreme Court last year reprimanded the Bush administration for setting up military tribunals without involving Congress, but the Military Commissions Act of 2006 failed to make it clear that the Guantanamo detainees could file habeas appeals. “It would have been preferable if Bush and Congress had granted to detainees at Guantanamo their day in court. But that failure is the court's opportunity to redeem America's reputation for fairness.”
The U.S. is already upholding its reputation for fairness, said Richard Samp in USA Today. These detainees already have a “full panoply of rights” that “have never been accorded to military detainees in past wars.” A “sizable number” of them have already successfully challenged their detention in Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which strike the “proper balance” in the effort to respect basic rights during a war. It would be wrong for the justices to “second-guess” the military while there’s a war on.