Foreign terrorism suspects held at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba have constitutional rights to challenge their detention there in United States courts, the Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, on Thursday in a historic decision on the balance between personal liberties and national security.
“The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court.
The ruling came in the latest battle between the executive branch, Congress and the courts over how to cope with dangers to the country in the post-9/11 world. Although there have been enough rulings addressing that issue to confuse all but the most diligent scholars, this latest decision, in Boumediene v. Bush, No. 06-1195, may be studied for years to come.
Editor’s Comment — This grammatical precision is hardly likely to catch on, but the NYT got it right: terrorism suspects.
Having arisen out of the muddy concept of terrorism, it was hardly surprising that Guantanamo would have ended up as a holding pen for men about whom the US government would be more emphatic about saying who they are – terrorists – than what they have done.
The argument that these men (and boys) present such an inordinate threat to the United States that they would have to be stripped of fundamental legal rights, is, and always was, inherently circular.
These terrorists were so dangerous we couldn’t take the risk of trying to legally establish whether they had committed, planned, or assisted in any acts of terrorism.
The Court’s ruling was grounded in its recognition that the guarantee of habeas corpus was so central to the Founding that it was one of the few individual rights included in the Constitution even before the Bill of Rights was enacted. As the Court put it: “the Framers viewed freedom from unlawful restraint as a fundamental precept of liberty, and they understood the writ of habeas corpus as a vital instrument to secure that freedom.” The Court noted that freedom from arbitrary or baseless imprisonment was one of the core rights established by the 13th Century Magna Carta, and it is the writ of habeas corpus which is the means for enforcing that right. Once habeas corpus is abolished — as the Military Commissions Act sought to do — then we return to the pre-Magna Carta days where the Government is free to imprison people with no recourse.
In Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion, he devoted an entire section to “a description of the disastrous consequences of what the Court has done today,” a procedure “contrary to my usual practice,” he admitted. Scalia adopted extreme rhetoric about the impacts of the decision, calling it a “self-invited…incursion into military affairs” that would “almost certainly” kill Americans.
Editor’s Comment — Justice Scalia, as a man of conscience, should make clear the full measure of his outrage and do the right thing: resign from the court.
In practice, there is less to the American “concessions” than would first appear. The reaction in Iraq to the US demands for the long-term use of military bases and other rights has been so furious that Washington is now offering limited concessions in the negotiations. For example, the US is lowering the number of bases it wants from 58 to “the low dozens” and says it is willing to compromise on legal immunity for foreign contractors according to information leaked to The Independent.
George Bush is willing to modify some of the demands so the Iraqi government can declare “a significant climbdown” by the American side allowing Baghdad to sign the treaty by 31 July.
But the US currently only maintains about 30 large bases in Iraq, some the size of small cities; the rest are “forward operating bases”.
If wasn’t clear before it should be now: the Bush Administration can’t afford to attack Iran. With gas already at $4 a gallon and rising almost every day, Iran figuratively and literally has the United States over a barrel. As much as the Administration is tempted, it is not about to test Iran’s promise to “explode” the Middle East if it is attacked.
The Iranians haven’t been shy about making clear what’s at stake. If the U.S. or Israel so much as drops a bomb on one of its reactors or its military training camps, Iran will shut down Gulf oil exports by launching a barrage of Chinese Silkworm missiles on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and Arab oil facilities. In the worst case scenario, seventeen million barrels of oil would come off world markets.
One oil speculator told me that oil would hit $200 a barrel within minutes. But Iran’s official news agency, Fars, puts it at $300 a barrel. I asked him if Iran is right, what does that mean?
Six months ago, after American intelligence agencies declared that Iran had shelved its nuclear-weapons program, the chances of a U.S. or Israeli military strike on Iran before President Bush left office seemed remote.
Now, thanks to persistent pressure from Israeli hawks and newly stated concerns by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the idea of a targeted strike meant to cripple Iran’s nuclear program is getting a new hearing.
As Bush travels across Europe to gain support for possible new sanctions against Iran, Israeli leaders have been working to lay the psychological foundation for a possible military strike if diplomacy falters.
American policymakers have long viewed the protection of overseas oil supplies as an essential matter of “national security,” requiring the threat of — and sometimes the use of — military force. This is now an unquestioned part of American foreign policy.
On this basis, the first Bush administration fought a war against Iraq in 1990-1991 and the second Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003. With global oil prices soaring and oil reserves expected to dwindle in the years ahead, military force is sure to be seen by whatever new administration enters Washington in January 2009 as the ultimate guarantor of our well-being in the oil heartlands of the planet. But with the costs of militarized oil operations — in both blood and dollars — rising precipitously isn’t it time to challenge such “wisdom”? Isn’t it time to ask whether the U.S. military has anything reasonable to do with American energy security, and whether a reliance on military force, when it comes to energy policy, is practical, affordable, or justifiable?
A deeply controversial plan put forth by MIT scientists to end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program is getting increased interest from senior members of both parties in Congress and nonproliferation specialists.
The plan, which was rejected three years ago by the Bush administration, argues for a dramatic shift in US policy: Rather than trying to halt Iran’s efforts to enrich uranium, the United States should help build an internationally run enrichment facility inside Iran to replace Iran’s current facilities.
Supporters argue that such a program would fulfill Iran’s insistence on enriching uranium on its own soil, while preventing the dangerous material from being diverted to weapons.
Three years ago, when the proposal was first advanced, it was widely considered unthinkable. Administration officials argued that tougher sanctions and the threat of military strikes would force Iran to stop its program to enrich uranium, a process that uses thousands of spinning centrifuges to create fuel out of rare uranium isotopes that can be used for nuclear power or weapons.
But now, as Iran appears on the verge of mastering enrichment technology, the call to try to internationalize Iran’s facilities is getting more attention on Capitol Hill and from nonproliferation specialists as a face-saving compromise.
Iranian officials proposed building an international enrichment plant inside Iran in a letter they submitted to the United Nations last month, but declined to say whether such a plant would be in addition to or a replacement for their own facilities.
In an interview last month, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, said the details should be negotiated.
Thomas Pickering, the US ambassador to the United Nations under President George H.W. Bush, endorsed the idea in a March article in the New York Review of Books that was co-authored by Jim Walsh, a nonproliferation specialist at MIT, and William Luers, president of the United Nations Association, which organizes meetings with Iranian officials. The three have spent more than a year in informal talks with officials from Iran’s foreign ministry and Atomic Energy Organization.
John Thomson, a former British ambassador to the United Nations who is now at MIT, and Geoffrey Forden, an MIT physicist and former weapons inspector in Iraq, have spent more than two years on separate research into the technology needed to safeguard such an international facility, including equipment that would prevent Iranian scientists from taking control of it or learning how it works.
Anti-Americanism is at record levels thanks to US policies such as the war in Iraq, and Washington’s perceived hypocrisy in abiding by its own democratic values, US lawmakers said Wednesday.
A House of Representatives committee report [PDF] based on expert testimony and polling data reveals US approval ratings have fallen to record lows across the world since 2002, particularly in Muslim countries and Latin America.
It says the problem arises not from a rejection of US culture, values and power but primarily from its policies, such as backing authoritarian regimes while promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
“Our physical strength has come to be seen not as a solace but as a threat, not as a guarantee of stability and order but as a source of intimidation, violence and torture,” said Bill Delahunt, chairman of the subcommittee on international organizations, human rights and oversight.