With the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Thursday, President Bush becomes further isolated in his position that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have no civil rights. For the third time in four years, the high court has rejected his arguments that the war on terror gives him the right to take essentially the same liberties Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War.
Of course, the Civil War was a declared war. The war on terror, despite a congressional resolution, is not. The Civil War also was a genuine threat to the future of the United States. The war on terror certainly is a threat to all of civilization, but terror tactics have been used in that fight, by diverse groups, for more than 100 years.
The court ruled that prisoners at Guantanamo (more than 300 of them remain) have a right to challenge their status in front of a federal judge. Many have been held there for years without being charged with a crime. The Bush administration chose to hold the prisoners at Guantanamo, a U.S. naval base on Cuban soil, because it hoped they would be out of the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. Not so, a majority said.
The Guantanamo prison issue always has hinged on this question of jurisdiction. In a larger sense, however, it has become a troubling symbol of disregard for all the good things America is supposed to represent. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman referred to it as the "anti-statue of Liberty." It energizes the nation's enemies, justifies their rage and helps them recruit others to their cause.
That innocent people are detained there is beyond debate. Military officials have acknowledged as much through the years. Some detainees have been released.
But some of the nation's fiercest enemies are there, as well. Military officials admit they have released some of these, too. The best way to sort out the mess is to submit it to the rule of law.
Dissenting justices said, among other things, that they worry about information vital to national security being released in an open court. Indeed, the courts ought to devise rules to allow for such things to be heard discretely.
Considering both presidential candidates are critical of using Guantanamo for housing detainees, and considering both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have at various times advocated closing it, the president's position isn't likely to be argued much longer.