We know bad news is released on Friday and last Friday was no exception when the Supreme Court made history by reversing its previous decision on April 2 — and will now hear the case of Guantanamo detainees who argue they are being illegally held as “enemy combatants” without access to due process in the American federal court system. That Supreme Court reversal — authentic and historic in itself — is Bad News for the Bush administration even as Hamdan v. Rumsfeld rumbles in the distant hearts of many.

The Guantanamo detainees have so far been denied the right to file a Writ of Habeas Corpusa writ as old as the Magna Carta of 1215 — because Cheney and Bush do not consider Guantanamo an American incarceration even though it is Americans who created and operate the prison.

The Bush administration believes the Guantanamo detainees can be held indefinitely with no access to the court system to even have a trial to determine their guilt or innocence.

Current Bush policy appears to be, “If they’re in Guantanamo, they’re guilty.” Guilty by association? Guilty by imperial decree? Guilty by what standard of law?

The decision set the stage for a historic legal battle that appeared likely to shape debates in the Bush administration about when and how to close the detention center that has become a lightning rod for international criticism.The exceptionally unusual order, which required votes from five of the nine justices, gave lawyers for detainees more than they had requested in a motion asking the justices to reconsider an April decision declining to review the same case. Lawyers for detainees had asked only that the court hold the case open for future consideration. Today’s order meant that the court would hear the case in its next term, perhaps by December. Experts on the Supreme Court said the justices so rarely grant such motions for reconsideration that the order itself was significant.

They said it signaled that the justices had determined they needed to resolve a new politically and legally significant Guantanamo issue, after two earlier Supreme Court decisions that have been sweeping setbacks for the administration’s detention policies.

Are we a nation of laws and memory?

Or do we merely exist to serve one man’s emotional whimsy of the moment?

Habeas Corpus must be rescued. The Supreme Court must restore Habeas Corpus. History and humanity demand return of the original writ.

If Jack Ruby can use Habeas Corpus to preserve his legal rights, so too must the Guantanamo detainees and so too, must we all.

Scooter Libby doesn’t have to serve under the rule of law — but shouldn’t the President of the United States be required, at some point, to honor the process of the law and its punishment?

A month after the attacks of Sept. 11, George W. Bush traveled to Constitution Hall in Washington to speak to the federal government’s senior executive service. The event was meant to “honor public servants,” and Bush said he wanted to say “a few words” about the “important values we must demonstrate while all of us serve in government.” “First,” the president said, “we must always maintain the highest ethical standards. We must always ask ourselves not only what is legal, but what is right.”What we’ve learned so many times since — and all over again today — is that, in the mind of this president and the people around him, “what is right” isn’t necessarily a higher standard than “what is legal.” They’re just different, see, and the standard you use at any given moment is the one that gets you where you want to go. There is no question that Scooter Libby broke the law. He lied, repeatedly and deliberately, to federal investigators and to Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury.

A jury of his peers — to the extent that a man like Libby has peers — reached a unanimous verdict of guilt on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements. The federal judge who presided over Libby’s trial heard his arguments and refused to reverse the jury’s verdict or order a new trial. And earlier today, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals refused Libby’s motion to remain free pending his appeal.

Let’s hope the Supreme Court does the right thing.

Let’s hope the restoration of the right to invoke Habeas Corpus for the Guantanamo detainees — and then to have that invocation actually heard, and adjudicated, in a proper federal court of law — sends a hard message to the current administration that they can no longer bury in the Vice President’s office, or ignore in the face of public dismay: No man is above the law; and that includes those who believe in the right of an imperial presidency over the rights of the people.

Comments are closed.