30 June 2006

US Supreme Court Justices "broadly reject Bush plan to try detainees"

So The New York Times headline describes the US Supreme Court's 5- 3 majority decision in Hamdan v Rumsfeld. The full decision is available from the US Supreme Court website.

Other reports currently available online include The New York Post and the BBC, and, from the Australian media, The Australian, The Age and the ABC.

The NY Times comments

The ruling marked the most significant setback yet for the administration's broad expansions of presidential power.
The majority opinion by Justice Stevens and a concurring opinion by Justice Kennedy, who also signed most of Justice Stevens's opinion, indicated that finding a legislative solution would not necessarily be easy. In an important part of the ruling, the court held that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as Common Article 3 applies to the Guantánamo detainees and is enforceable in federal court for their protection.
The provision requires humane treatment of captured combatants and prohibits trials except by "a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people."

The opinion made it clear that while this provision does not necessarily require the full range of protections of a civilian court or a military court-martial, it does require observance of protections for defendants that are missing from the rules the administration has issued for military commissions. The flaws the court cited were the failure to guarantee the defendant the right to attend the trial and the prosecution's ability under the rules to introduce hearsay evidence, unsworn testimony, and evidence obtained through coercion.

Justice Stevens said the historical origin of military commissions was in their use as a "tribunal of necessity" under wartime conditions. "Exigency lent the commission its legitimacy," he said, "but did not further justify the wholesale jettisoning of procedural protections."

Not surprisingly reactions to the decision have been varied, though the US government seems to be putting the best spin possible on it , as a later BBC report "Bush refuses to abandon tribunals" suggests.

Update 1 July

The Washington Post coverage of the story is also worth a look, not least because it has a link to President Bush's media conference (with Japanese PM and Elvis tragic Koizumi) which shows the President, even making allowances for his receiving only a "drive by briefing" beforehand, looking less than assured in his handling of questions. The transcript of the entire conference, including the President's gaffe where he says "I reminded the American people, Mr. Prime Minister, over the past months that it was not always a given that the United States and America (sic) would have a close relationship. After all, 60 years we were at war -- 60 years ago we were at war." is here.

Closer to home, The Australian reports "President and PM bow to the real King" without mentioning the difficult questions, though elsewhere its
Washington correspondent reports "Bush will push new laws on detainees". The paper's least obsequious verbal comment comes from Matt Price who refers to "the Prime Minister's timorous, mean-spirited response to the farcical treatment being meted out to Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks". Well put, Matt, I wasn't far off writing you off as an apologist for the PM (as well as the Dockers).

Elsewhere, ABC TV's Lateline last night ran items including comments from Mr Howard and this interview with Major Michael Mori. Today Marian Wilkinson in the SMH and Michelle Grattan in The Age have published thoughtful, well reasoned pieces.

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