Week in Review: Supreme Court Ruling Rebukes Administration

NPR's Scott Simon and Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr review the Supreme Court's finding against the Bush administration on military trials for enemy combatants. Also, the practical effect of Israel's deployment of troops into southern Gaza.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

It's been a week dominated by a Supreme Court ruling that rebukes the administration, and escalating tensions in the Gaza Strip.

NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And first, of course, this Supreme Court ruling that held that the plans that the administration has to put the people who are detained as enemy combatants in Guantanamo Prison on trial before special military commissions is illegal, violates international law, the Geneva Conventions, and that they haven't been authorized by Congress.

SCHORR: That's right. This is a real biggie, because the President likes to go around saying that he has inherent powers and the Congress has told him he can do this and it turns out that he doesn't have inherent powers, if you listen to the Supreme Court, which includes a couple of people that he put there on the Court. So that we're now in a position that the whole structure of taking these people, calling them enemy combatants, and then saying we will have a special kind of military commissions to try them, that's gone. They can't do that.

SIMON: We should explain that the Chief Justice, John Roberts, recused himself from this decision because, I believe - I believe he'd ruled on the case at the appellate division.

SCHORR: That's correct.

SIMON: Well, but let me ask. Because, of course, the administration says it's going to go to Congress, and Congress will not only be consulted, but presumably asked to draft legislation. Is it possible that the military commissions would be approved by Congress, essentially after the fact?

SCHORR: If Congress passes a law saying there'll be military commissions and they can try people, then yes, of course. The whole point of this thing is whether they exceeded their authority in doing something which Congress had not yet authorized.

SIMON: Practical question. What happens to the prison and the people who are detained there as enemy combatants now?

SCHORR: Well, the answer is nothing. They remain in Guantanamo. They can be held. Nobody can stop the U.S. from holding them. It's just they can't try them. They can't have writ of habeas corpus to get out of there. And so the subject of all this goes back there and waits until somebody decides what they can do. It looks as though they will need Congress to do something. And if you need Congress, then you're in trouble, because that doesn't happen very quickly.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. But what's the shape of this Roberts Court based on, say, this decision certainly this week, but some other ones that were handed down this week, upholding Texas redistricting, the death penalty law in Kansas, for example?

SCHORR: Well, I am not clear on whether enough has yet happened in this, in this one session, where we had one of the members of the Court joining in mid-session, the other just before the session began, I'm not sure whether we have a clear picture yet. Certainly it moves a little further towards a conservative Court. O'Connor being gone makes a difference.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: Other than that, I think I will not risk making any predictions.

SIMON: Israel sent troops into southern Gaza on Wednesday, hoping that it would pressure Hamas to release the kidnapped soldier, Corporeal Gilad Shalit. And then Israel launched missile attacks and air strikes in Gaza. What's your feeling about what the practical affect of this will be? Would it, in fact, induce or convince Hamas to release the soldier, deter them from kidnapping anyone else? Or just make Hamas more popular at a time when, in fact, they've been criticized by some people in the Gaza Strip?

SCHORR: The question is whether the Hamas government will survive all of this. Israel has been pounding at Gaza and the West Bank from the air. And as you mentioned, there was one incursion on the ground. They have tanks lined up ready to move if something happens to this young man.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: There's going to be really a real battle royale, you might say. But even as things are now, they have bombed the Ministry of Interior of Hamas. They have arrested dozens and dozens, including a third of the Hamas cabinet. And the question now is not what only happens to the young corporal, the question is whether the government will survive this. I think Israel may be out to really abolish them.

SIMON: Hmm. But Hamas is the elected leadership.

SCHORR: But now it turns out that there is Hamas, and then there is another Hamas. There's what's called the military wing of Hamas, whose headquarters are not in the West Bank or Ramallah, but in Syria. And apparently now what Israel wants to do is to get at this, which is believed to be the source of the kidnapping of the young corporal, and the killing of two other soldiers.

SIMON: Was Hamas, though, in some ways, did they win that election because they had managed to install themselves as the most aggressive adversary of Israeli rule?

SCHORR: I think that they won this simply because Palestinians were sick and tired of the wave of corruption that Arafat had left behind him. These were younger people. These were people who talk of a more democratic government. And on the surface, this was going to be a clean government. And there may well be a clean government, but it is also a very militant government.

SIMON: In Iraq, a sixth inquiry into killings by U.S soldiers has opened. And this latest investigation focuses on five soldiers who are apparently accused of killing a family of four and raping a woman in an Iraqi town in March. They are members of the same unit, 502nd Infantry Unit, as the two soldiers who were kidnapped and brutalized earlier this month. Does this put that investigation into a different light?

SCHORR: I don't know what to say. When you get, every now and then, an incident of this sort, where we had a previous one, where up to 24 people or so were killed...

SIMON: This is Haditha? Yes.

SCHORR: Haditha case. And war is brutalizing. And so we get these incidents that come up and they're very unhappy, and very discouraging. But there they are. What I must say, however, is the military command is not standing for it. They really are taking a lot of measures to get these people and investigate them and try them. Nobody is trying to push this under the rug, which is also a helpful thing.

SIMON: In Iraq, Prime Minister al-Maliki offered an idea...

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: ...this week, that an amnesty would be declared that would permit members of the insurgency to join the political process, even come into the government, as long as they didn't kill a U.S. or Iraqi soldier. Do you think this is the kind of - kind of amnesty that, for example, the U.S. government and many Iraqis can accept?

SCHORR: Iraqis may accept it. I don't see any sign that the United States government is willing to allow. Originally it was saying that it only had to do with whether any Iraqis were killed. They didn't even make allowance for American casualties.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: As of now, I have a feeling that you will get these things coming up every day, every week now. And it will be some time before anybody will settle on something generally acceptable both to the Iraqis and to the U.S.

SIMON: Hmm. Finally, let me ask you. President Bush chastised the news media this week for disclosing the administration's secret program to track international financial transactions...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...in an attempt to follow the money in the war on terror. What's your reaction to this?

SCHORR: Obviously, I have a prejudice, since I belong to the press, and I do not belong to where the government is. But having said that, it is hard to believe that anybody who is interested in knowing it would not have known that there was this organization through which you could find out where the money was going. And so we've had this before. We'll have it again. The press will do what it has to do. And the government will denounce, as it has to denounce.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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