'The End of Guantanamo as We Know It'

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — some of whom have been held for six years — have the right to seek their release in federal court. The 5-4 decision was a stinging rebuke to President Bush's anti-terrorism policies, and reaction from law experts and Bush allies was swift.

"I think that the decision today is the end of Guantanamo as we know it," said Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal, who represents one of the detainees.

Andrew McBride, who wrote a brief on behalf of former GOP attorneys general siding with the administration, called it a watershed decision: "For the first time in history, it does inject judicial supervision into the conduct of war."

In essence, the court said to the Bush administration that it can continue with the flawed proceedings at Guantanamo, but when they are reviewed by the courts, the prisoners will have a full range of legal tools to challenge their detentions, and the burden of proof will be on the government.

"We'll abide by the court's decision; that doesn't mean I have to agree with it," said President Bush, who was in Rome.

In Washington, the chief judge of the federal district court, where some 200 cases are currently pending, called a meeting of the judges likely to hear the cases. There are still many questions unresolved, questions that will have to be sorted out first by the district court, and perhaps eventually by the Supreme Court: What is the standard of proof the government is required to meet? How long do detainees have to wait before they can challenge their detentions in court? What procedures will there be to protect intelligence sources and methods? How long will the government be given to produce the evidence against the detainees?

Also, the government has said roughly one-third of the detainees are not dangerous and have been approved for release to their home countries, but those countries don't want them, nor does any other country seem to want these people whom the U.S. once characterized as the worst of the worst. What will the courts do with them?

McBride contends that if no solution can be found, some of the men might be released into the United States. The courts, he argues, don't have the expertise to decide such questions.

"A wrong decision could be devastating to this country in terms of terrorist attacks," he said.

Supreme Court Backs Rights for Terror Detainees

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court also said the Bush administration's system for classifying detainees as enemy combatants does not meet basic legal standards.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times." He was joined by the court's four more liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens.

This is the third time the justices have told President Bush that his plan for handling foreign terrorists violates the Constitution. This time, the president had Congress on his side. In 2006, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a law called the Military Commissions Act. It closed the courthouse doors to Guantanamo detainees and set up a new system for terrorism trials at the camp in Cuba.

The Supreme Court now says the 2006 law unconstitutionally suspended habeas corpus — a prisoner's right to challenge his detention. The ruling overturns a lower court decision that said the law was constitutional.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia each wrote a dissent on behalf of the court's more conservative bloc, which includes Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Roberts criticized his fellow justices for striking down what he called "the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants." Scalia wrote that the majority opinion "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."

Congressional Democrats and human-rights groups hailed the decision. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy called the ruling "a stinging rebuke of the Bush administration's flawed detention policies." Vincent Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees, said, "The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation's most egregious injustices."

On Thursday, President Bush said, "We'll abide by the court's decision. That doesn't mean I have to agree with it."

The ruling could resuscitate several court cases that have been on hold pending the high court's decision. There are nearly 200 Guantanamo detainee cases on the docket of the District Court in Washington, D.C. Those cases include claims from detainees who argue that they are being unlawfully held at the prison camp, that they are innocent, or that they were tortured during interrogations.

Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said the court's judges will meet in the coming days to decide how to proceed. "I expect we'll call in the lawyers from both sides to see what suggestions they have for how we can approach our task most effectively and efficiently," Lamberth said.

It is not clear what impact the ruling will have on the eventual fate of detainees. President Bush and presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have all said they support shutting down Guantanamo, but there is no clear consensus on where the detainees should go. In the past, some were released without charge. Others were transferred to foreign countries. About 270 men captured in Afghanistan and Iraq are currently at the prison camp. Some have been there for more than six years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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