The military trials against US-held detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba will not be affected by a Supreme Court ruling that the detainees have the right to appeal in US civilian courts, US Attorney General Michael Mukasey said yesterday.
Mukasey, speaking at a G8 meeting of justice and home affairs ministers in Tokyo, said he was disappointed with the decision because it would lead to “hundreds” of detention cases being referred to federal district court.
“I think it bears emphasis that the court’s decision does not concern military commission trials, which will continue to proceed,” he said.
“Instead it addresses the procedures that the Congress and the president put in place to permit enemy combatants to challenge their detention,” Mukasey said.
“Obviously we’re going to comply with the decision, we’re going to study both the decision itself and whether any legislation or any other action may be appropriate,” he said.
A divided US Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that foreign detainees held for years at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have the right to appeal to US civilian courts to challenge their indefinite imprisonment without charges. It was a stinging rebuke to US President George W. Bush.
Bush, in Rome on Thursday, said he strongly disagreed with the decision — the third time the court has repudiated him on the detainees — and suggested he might seek yet another law to keep terror suspects at the prison camp “so we can safely say to the American people, ‘We’re doing everything we can to protect you.’”
“It was a deeply divided court, and I strongly agree with those who dissented,” he said.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 high court majority, acknowledged the terrorism threat the US faces, but he declared, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.”
In a blistering dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.”
Kennedy said federal judges could ultimately order some detainees to be released, but he also said such orders would depend on security concerns and other circumstances. The ruling itself will not result in any immediate releases.
The decision, however, also cast doubt on the future of the military war crimes trials that 19 detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged Sept. 11 plotters, are facing so far. The Pentagon has said it plans to try as many as 80 men held at Guantanamo.
Human rights groups and many Democratic members of Congress celebrated the ruling as affirming the nation’s commitment to the rule of law. Several Republican lawmakers called it a decision that put foreign terrorists’ rights above the safety of the US public.
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