Supreme Court Military Commission Ruling Sweeping Victory for the Rule of Law

In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the President lacked the authority to establish the military commissions and that the commissions violated American military law and the laws of war. The case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, involved a challenge to the legality of military commission trials at Guantanamo Bay.

“The Supreme Court’s decision reaffirms the importance of one of this country’s founding principles: trials conducted in the name of the United States must be full, fair, and according to law,” said Deborah Pearlstein, Director of Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program. “As the Court recognizes today, the Constitution and laws of the United States are best protected by regular and independent judicial review.”

Human Rights First, which has been observing the military commission proceedings in Guantanamo Bay since they began, submitted a series of “friend of the court” briefs in the Hamdan case. Its most recent filing urged the Supreme Court to find that the specially convened commissions are beyond the President’s authority because they allow for the admission of evidence obtained under coercive interrogation.

“The broad decision today will have an impact on United States detention and interrogation policies not just at Guantanamo Bay, but across the board,” said Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First. “Among other things, the Court made clear that the executive branch is not exempt from the law’s basic guarantees of fair trials and humane treatment.”

The immediate case involves Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 34-year-old Yemeni national, who was accused of conspiring with members of al Qaeda to attack civilians. According to the U.S. government, Hamdan was captured by Afghan forces and handed over to the U.S. military in Afghanistan in late 2001. In July 2003, President Bush designated him as eligible for trial by military commission. Commission proceedings began in August 2004 but were abruptly stayed in November 2004 when a U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C. ruled the commission unlawful. An appeals court reversed that finding, and Hamdan sought Supreme Court review.

Read Human Rights First’s most recent ‘friend of court’ brief to the Supreme Court.

Published on June 29, 2006


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