VARIOUS: U.S. Supreme Court rules that military tribunal system set up to try Guantanamo prisoners violates the...
- Title: VARIOUS: U.S. Supreme Court rules that military tribunal system set up to try Guantanamo prisoners violates the Geneva Convention and U.S. military rules
- Date: 30th June 2006
- Summary: (W5) NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (JUNE 29, 2006) (REUTERS) BEN WIZNER, ATTORNEY FOR THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (ACLU), WORKING IN OFFICE (SOUNDBITE) (English) BEN WIZNER, ATTORNEY FOR THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, SAYING: "It's a very important decision today. And we have to remember what Guantanamo is. Guantanamo was an attempt on behalf of the administration to create an island outside the law; to bring these detainees to a place where no law applied to them and where the United States could do whatever it wanted to them. And what the Supreme Court said today is that even in Guantanamo Bay, U.S. law and international law apply, and if we're going to try these people for crimes, we have to try them under a legal system - not a system that we make up as we go along."
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- Topics: Legal System
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- Story Text: In a sharp rebuke of President George W. Bush's tactics in the war on terrorism, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday (June 29) struck down as illegal the military tribunal system set up to try Guantanamo prisoners.
The 5-3 written decision is a stinging blow for the administration in a case brought by Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was Osama bin Laden's driver in Afghanistan. Hamdan, one of more than 400 foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was captured in November 2001.
The ruling, handed down on the last day of the court's 2005-06 term, followed the deaths of three Guantanamo prisoners this month and increased calls for Bush to close the prison camp.
"Today's decision reaffirms our founder's belief in the constitution and the essential role of this court as promoting checks and balances. Today's decision makes clear that the terrorists will never take away our peoples' faith in the courts or our faith as a people in itself or our core values. This is our precious gift to the world. We are a land of liberty with respect and decency for all human beings," Neil Katyal, one of Hamdan's attorneys said, outside the Supreme Court.
"It's clear how to proceed. Exactly as we've been asking from the beginning - in a regular court - be that a federal court with a charge of conspiracy, or if there is a war crime, in a court martial. We have never contested that we cannot be tried there. All we have wanted was a fair trial, and we thank the Supreme Court for ensuring that Mr. Hamdan will get one," Hamdan's military attorney, U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Charles Swift said.
U.S. President George W. Bush learned of the Supreme Court ruling while he was meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. At a news conference after the meeting, Bush said that he would conform with the Supreme Court's decision.
"The American people need to know that this ruling, as I understand it, won't cause killers to be put out on the street. In other words, there's not a -- it was a drive-by briefing on the way here, I was told that this was not going to be the case. At any rate, we will seriously look at the findings, obviously. And one thing I'm not going to do, though, is I'm not going to jeopardise the safety of the American people. People have got to understand that. I understand we're in a war on terror; that these people were picked up off of a battlefield; and I will protect the people and, at the same time, conform with the findings of the Supreme Court," Bush said.
But for civil rights advocates, like attorney Ben Wizner, at the American Civil Liberties Union, the Supreme Court decision, means the Bush administration is now forced to try Guantanamo detainees in an established court system.
"It's a very important decision today. And we have to remember what Guantanamo is. Guantanamo was an attempt on behalf of the administration to create an island outside the law - to bring these detainees to a place where no law applied to them and where the United States could do whatever it wanted to them. And what the Supreme Court said today is that even in Guantanamo Bay, U.S. law and international law apply, and if we're going to try these people for crimes, we have to try them under a legal system - not a system that we make up as we go along," Wizner said.
At issue were special war crimes tribunals Bush established shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for trying prisoners captured in his declared war on terrorism. Human rights groups criticized the tribunals, formally called military commissions, for being fundamentally unfair.
The written Supreme Court decision produced a total of six opinions totaling 177 pages.
The opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens was joined by the other liberal justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, and moderate-conservative Anthony Kennedy.
The conservatives -- Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito -- dissented.
The ruling involved eight of the nine Supreme Court members. Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by Bush, removed himself because he was selected for the Supreme Court, he previously was on the U.S. appeals court panel that ruled for the Bush administration in Hamdan's case.
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- Embargoed:15th July 2006 13:00