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Supreme Court Rules Guantanamo Military Commissions Invalid

Posted: July 7, 2006

The Supreme Court ruled on June 29, 2006, that that the military commissions established by the Bush Administration to try terror suspects lack "power to proceed because [their] structure and procedures violate" both the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Geneva Conventions, the international agreements that cover treatment of prisoners of war.   


The challenge to the Administration's plan was brought by a Guantanamo detainee, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was allegedly Osama bin Laden's driver and personal bodyguard in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.  Hamdan has been charged with conspiracy to help Al Qaeda.


The Court held that the military commissions are not expressly authorized by any congressional act, including the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), an act passed by Congress in the wake of the September 11th attacks.  


According to the Court, Congress did not strip its jurisdiction to rule on the military commissions' validity when it passed the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) late last year because the DTA did not apply to pending cases.  The Court did not rule on the government's power to indefinitely detain Hamdan during the period of "active hostilities."

Hamdan's attorneys argued that the Administration exceeded its authority by setting up military commissions to try terrorist suspects.  The government's position was that these suspects were "enemy combatants," - rather than prisoners of war - and do not have the traditional rights of prisoners of war, as outlined in the Geneva Conventions. 

The Court held that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions does apply  to Guantanamo detainees.  This provision mandates humane treatment of the detainees and trials that include more protections than the current military commissions require. 

For example, the current rules governing the military commissions do not guarantee defendants the right to attend their own trials.  The ruling that the Conventions apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda could also have significant implications for interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo, according to some observers. 

Only 10 of the approximately 450 Guantanamo detainees have reportedly been officially charged.  President Bush has indicated that he plans to work with Congress to devise commissions that will survive judicial scrutiny
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