From the July 2004 Idaho Observer:

Supreme Court decision promises detainees their day in court

In Sharif Rasul, et al., v. President George W. Bush, et al., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Bush administration may continue detaining and ill-treating their self-styled “war on terror” prisoners while presenting a thin facade of compassion and due process of law: The U.S. Supreme Court just gave suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay access to the same legal system that lands so many provably innocent Americans in prison. Although a phenomenal number of Americans who withstand trial in federal court are innocent of the crimes they are being charged with, about 95 percent of U.S. Department of Justice prosecutions result in convictions.

by The Idaho Observer

In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided June 28, 2004, to reject the Bush administration's claim that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay as suspects in its war on terror are outside the jurisdiction of courts and, therefore, have no right to legal counsel. The ruling will give approximately 600 federal “detainees” the right to challenge their detainment in federal court.

On the same day, the court ruled that Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen being held (without charges and without access to counsel) as a terrorist suspect in a South Carolina military jail, could legally challenge the constitutionality of his imprisonment.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, one of the court's Republican-appointed judges, wrote the majority opinion, stating the ruling made it clear “that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens.”

Justice O'Connor, one of the most constitutionally-learned people in America, apparently considers our nation in “.a state of war” when war has never officially been declared by Congress -- the only body authorized by the U.S. Constitution to declare one. Three days earlier, Justice O'Connor wrote the dissenting opinion in the State of Washington v. Blakely that state and federal judges have the right to “enhance” prison sentences at their own discretion.

Though the decision sounds like a victory for prisoners, many of whom have been held incommunicado for over two years, it also upheld the government's right to hold prisoners in the “war on terror” indefinitely. All the decision really means at this time is that prisoners will be allowed to meet with civilian lawyers for the first time since the camp began warehousing suspected terrorists almost three years ago. It is hoped the ruling will compel the U.S. government to present evidence justifying its detention of each prisoner.

Joe Margulies argued the case on behalf of the detainees. “The lesson of this decision is that there is no prison beyond the reach of domestic law,” he said. “The court holds emphatically that, though war powers may give the U.S. the right to seize people, it may not place them beyond the reach of legal process,” Margulies added.

According to the Guardian of the U.K., four “Britons” of Arabic descent, Feroz Abbasi, Moazzam Begg, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanga, are among those being held at Guantanamo. “Their lawyers said they would bring a writ of habeas corpus, challenging the constitutionality of their imprisonment, to a federal district court in Washington this month,” the Guardian reported.

The ruling would indicate that the Bush administration, led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, were wrong to deny its prisoners access to legal counsel. There has been very little comment from the White House regarding the ruling.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion three days earlier in Blakely v. The State of Washington, argued, “This is an irresponsible overturning of settled law in a matter of extreme importance to our forces currently in the field.”

Louise Christian, a “solicitor” for two of the Brits, seemed to have a clear understanding of U.S. legal process and that it may take years before suspected terrorists could be found innocent and released. “I do not think it will do anything at all for anybody in the immediate future,” Christian said.

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