Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Friday sharply denounced a US Supreme Court decision that gave suspected terrorist detainees a right to seek their release in federal courts.
“I think it’s one of the worst decisions in history,” McCain said. “It opens up a whole new chapter and interpretation of our Constitution.”
The court ruled 5-4 that the government is violating the constitutional rights of prisoners being held indefinitely and without charge at the Guantanamo Bay US naval base in Cuba.
McCain is one of the authors of the 2006 Military Commissions Act that set up procedures for the handling of detainees. The act denied the detainees access to federal courts. The Supreme Court on Thursday said that provision of the law violated the Constitution.
The administration opened the detention facility shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to hold enemy combatants, people suspected of ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
The Guantanamo prison has been harshly criticized at home and abroad for the detentions themselves and the aggressive interrogations that were conducted there. About 270 men remain at the island prison, classified as enemy combatants and held on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Some have been held for more than six years.
The court has ruled twice that people held at Guantanamo without charges can go into civilian courts to ask that the government justify their continued detention. Each time, the administration and Congress, then controlled by Republicans, changed the law to try to close the courthouse doors to the detainees.
McCain said on Thursday he had not read the ruling and reserved his criticism. But on Friday, speaking to about 1,500 people at a town hall meeting in Pemberton, New Jersey, he attacked the decision, saying the law he helped write “made it very clear that these are enemy combatants, they are not citizens, they do not have the rights of citizens.”
McCain spoke to reporters after the town hall, accompanied by Senator Lindsey Graham, 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.”
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