CBS' Mitchell called Supreme Court decision on detainees "a victory ... in the war on terror"


On the April 2 edition of the CBS Evening News, the Evening News Sunday anchor Russ Mitchell said that the Supreme Court's refusal to hear an appeal from Guantánamo Bay terrorism suspects, who want to challenge their detention in court, "handed a victory to the Bush administration in the war on terror." But while the decision leaves standing, at this point, a provision in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 denying the right of noncitizens to challenge their detention -- a measure sought by Bush and approved in 2006 by the then-Republican controlled Congress -- to characterize it as a "victory ... in the war on terror" is to take a position on the merits of the bill and the Bush administration policy on fighting terrorism. In fact, the bill's contribution to U.S. efforts to fight terrorism is a matter very much in dispute. Many would argue that the denial of habeas corpus rights authorized in the bill ultimately harms U.S. efforts to fight terrorism, in that it "undermines America's moral authority," "is not what a great and good and powerful nation should be doing," and exposes Americans captured abroad to a comparable denial of basic civil and human rights.

As The Washington Post reported, the court's "decision leaves intact, at least for now, a measure passed at the administration's urging last year when Congress still was in Republican hands that denies Guantanamo Bay detainees the right to such habeas corpus petitions." But in issuing its decision, several "[j]ustices signaled ... that the high court eventually may hear the cases, filed by two groups of Guantanamo detainees." While Bush administration officials have reportedly stated they are "very pleased" with the court's decision, the Post also noted in its April 3 article that "[d]etainee advocates and several congressional Democrats criticized the court's decision":

"All we are asking for is the most fundamental ... right to go into court and say, 'Why are you holding me?' " said Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the detainees. "If they had a full and fair hearing, there would be hardly anyone left at Guantanamo."

About 385 detainees are imprisoned there now, and only a handful have been charged.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) issued a statement urging his Senate colleagues to pass a "bipartisan bill" to "restore habeas rights to non-citizens, including 12 million legal permanent residents living in this country." Leahy stated: "The Court's decision today underscores the need for Congress to act quickly to restore the fundamental habeas protections that were rolled back as part of last year's Military Commissions Act," adding, "Congress cannot sit back and wait for the courts to fix this problem." Leahy continued:

It is disappointing that there are not yet the four justices needed for the Supreme Court to consider the crucial issue of whether our Constitution allows Congress to deny detainees the habeas corpus rights that have been a cornerstone of American liberty since the founding of this Nation. I hope that the Court does decide before too long to consider the constitutionality of the habeas-stripping provision of last year's Military Commissions Act.

According to the Post, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (PA) -- who, with Leahy, co-sponsored legislation to restore habeas rights -- also "called on his colleagues yesterday to 'act promptly' to adopt their bill."

Further, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, when the Senate passed the Republican-backed bill governing the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of terrorism suspects in 2006, numerous congressional Democrats explicitly disputed Bush's claim that it would make the country safer. For instance, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) predicted the bill would undermine U.S. efforts to fight terrorism, saying, "When we're sloppy and cut corners, we are undermining those very virtues of America that will lead us to success in winning this war." Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) pointed out that military lawyers have expressed concern about the effect of the legislation on the future treatment of captured U.S. soldiers: "We must remember what the Army Judge Advocate General told me at a Judiciary Committee hearing this summer: that the United States should set an example for the world, and that we must carefully consider the effect on the way our own soldiers will be treated." And Leahy asserted that, by approving the bill, "we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed."

From the April 2 edition of the CBS Evening News:

MITCHELL: Also today, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in another environmental case. The court backed a move to force utilities to install pollution control equipment at more than two dozen older power plants fueled by coal.

The justices also handed a victory to the Bush administration in the war on terror, rejecting an appeal from terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay who want to challenge their detention in court.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Interrogation, National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Russ Mitchell
CBS Evening News
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