Bush Vows to Pursue Detainee War Trials
President Bush said he will press Congress for a law specifically authorizing military tribunals for Guantanamo Bay detainees in response to today’s Supreme Court ruling.
After a Supreme Court decision overruling war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees, President Bush suggested Thursday he would seek Congress’ approval to proceed with trying terrorism suspects before military tribunals. “To the extent that there is latitude to work with the Congress to determine whether or not the military tribunals will be an avenue in which to give people their day in court, we will do so,” he said. “The American people need to know that the ruling, as I understand it, won’t cause killers to be put out on the street.”
Bush said little more, saying he had received only a “drive-by briefing” on the ruling just out earlier Thursday morning.
The Supreme Court decided that Bush’s proposed trials for certain detainees at the controversial U.S. prison in Cuba were illegal under U.S. law and international Geneva conventions. A separate opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, appeared to invite Bush to go to Congress to seek the authority to change that, and Bush’s short answer indicated that is his intention.
The president declined to say whether the decision would prompt him to more quickly follow through on his promise to close the prison, as many world leaders and human rights groups have urged. “We will seriously look at the findings,” Bush said. “And one thing I’m not going to do, though, is I’m not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people. People got to understand that. I understand we’re in a war on terror, that these people were picked up off of a battlefield, and I will protect the people and at the same time conform with the findings of the Supreme Court.” [emphasis mine]
The right sentiment, methinks.
I should add, however, that SCOTUS didn’t demand that the inmates be released, merely that they could not be subject to military tribunals.
UPDATE: Anderson, commenting below, believes the last sentence above is overbroad. Here’s what Stevens actually wrote:
For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the military commission convened to try Hamdan lacks power to proceed because its structure and procedures violate both the UCMJ and the Geneva Conventions. Four of us also conclude, see Part V, infra, that the offense with which Hamdan has been charged is not an “offens[e] that by . . . the law of war may be tried by military commissions.”
I suppose rather than “the inmates” and “they,” I should merely have referred to “Hamden” and “he.” The broader application of this ruling is not entirely clear, especially given a plurality ruling.