Friday, June 13, 2008

Supreme Court on the rights of suspected terrorists

So, McCain has weighed in on the Supreme Court call parts of his bill (the one that set up the military tribunals for the suspects in Gitmo) and he's rather pissed.

But, I think this quote is very telling:

McCain spoke to reporters after the town hall, accompanied by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who helped him write the military commissions law.

"What happened yesterday was unprecedented," Graham said. "Americans are going to be shocked to find that that mastermind of 9-11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now has the same legal standing as an American citizen."

Emphasis mine. Now, I think SCOTUS has done two things with this ruling. The first is obvious, and it is listed in bold. Habeus corpus is a bedrock principle of our legal system. The rule is that you don't get to be held without charges, and a court gets to determine whether your imprisonment is lawful. I'll just say it is easy to follow the rules when you're not at war. The true test is when the shit hits the fan - are you still going to follow the law? This isn't just some bureacratic procedure here.

But, I think, though, the real concern is what happens when someone can challenge their imprisonment. What happens, and this is the second thing SCOTUS has done here, is that they have forced the government to put up or shut up, and they have to do it in the open. None of this bullshit "you're a terrorist but we won't tell you why we think that". This isn't about them being innocent or guilty, this is just the right to be openly told why the hell you're in jail.

Think about it. If I could go to a web site and look up each Gitmo detainee, and find out why they are there and the charges against them, then I'd feel a lot better about the existence of Gitmo in the first place. If they're enemy combatants, so be it, but right now, the government could literally be hiding people they don't want to deal with there and we'd never know. They could probably pretend to have bin Laden there and we wouldn't know.

Do I believe it is doing that? No. But the fact that the conditions enable it is just stupid. If I get arrested and declared an enemy combatant, shouldn't I be able to challenge that ruling in the court? Maybe I'll lose, but at least the prosecution would have to explain themselves.

I'm disappointed in McCain here. It isn't the military tribunals that are the problem - it is the fact that they don't allow people to even contest whether the tribunal is appropriate for their situation.