| Detainees at a holding area in Camp X-Ray inside the Guantanamo Bay naval base
Washington, June 29 (Reuters): In a sharp rebuke of President George W. Bush’s tactics in the war on terrorism, the US supreme court today struck down as illegal the military tribunal system set up to try Guantanamo prisoners.
By a 5-3 vote, the nation’s highest court in a landmark decision declared that the tribunals, which Bush created right after the September 11 attacks, violated the Geneva Conventions and US military rules.
“We conclude that the military commission convened to try (Salim Ahmed) Hamdan lacks power to proceed because its structure and procedures violate” the international agreement that covers treatment of prisoners of war, as well as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court majority.
The decision was a stinging blow for the administration in a case brought by Hamdan, who was Osama bin Laden’s driver in Afghanistan. Hamdan, captured in November 2001, is one of about 450 foreign terrorism suspects at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Stevens, at 86 the high court's longest serving justice and a leading liberal, said: “The rules specified for Hamdan’s trial are illegal.” He said the tribunals failed to provide one of the most fundamental protections under US military rules, the right for a defendant to be present at all proceedings.
In a 73-page opinion, he also said there was no reason why Hamdan could not be tried under the greater procedural safeguards in the US military justice system that apply to court-martial proceedings.
At the White House, Bush said he had not fully reviewed the ruling and would consult Congress to attain appropriate authority for military tribunals. “We take the findings seriously,” he said. “The American people need to know that this ruling, as I understand it, won’t cause killers to be put out on the street.”
A Pentagon spokesman reiterated the need for a US facility to hold dangerous captives.
The ruling, handed down on the last day of the court’s 2005-06 term, followed the deaths of three Guantanamo prisoners this month and increased calls for Bush to close the prison camp. US treatment of inmates at Guantanamo has drawn international criticism.