As Americans, we never get a guarantee of a lifetime of Supreme Court decisions we will agree with. From the mysterious discovery of a federal right to abortion three decades ago to this past year's rulings recklessly expanding the scope of eminent domain, I have had the average citizen's plight of absorbing what I perceive as judicial missteps from our nation's highest bench.
But when the high court's misplaced logic hampers a war in progress and thus endangers our success, it is not just another topic for national debate. It is an occasion to ask what in the world these people are thinking and who they think they are.
In an abominable 5-3 ruling Thursday, the justices ripped from a sitting President the reins of how to conduct a war that is his to run. The specific case involved one detainee at Guantanamo, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who used to be Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and driver. Bin Laden had to smile from his cave lair as America's highest court stuck up for his lackey and against the United States war effort.
Five justices found fault with the proposed war crimes tribunals envisioned by President Bush for the enemy combatants plucked from the battlefield and relocated to Guantanamo. They found the President's plan violated both the law and the Geneva Conventions.
As for the law, there is no requirement for a commander-in-chief to jump through a congressional hoop (as the court's majority asserted) to establish methods of adjudication for enemy warriors in custody during wartime. Even if there were an argument to be made on that point, Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent properly invokes the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, which clearly states that "no court, justice or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."
As for the Geneva Conventions, Justice John Paul Stevens in his opinion for the majority seems stunningly unaware of when they apply and when they do not.
They apply when we are at war with a uniformed enemy belonging to another country that is a signatory to and practitioner of the Conventions' protections. Not one of those conditions applies in the war on terror.
It is not fought against any given nation. We are fighting a vast unarrayed horde from various nations, none of whom seems particularly interested in extending such civility to us. An examination of the tortured bodies of Pfcs. Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker will reveal our enemy's attention to such basic human decency.
One may wish for us to extend Geneva Conventions treatment to all at Guantanamo as a matter of policy, but to impose the obligation as a matter of law is a grotesque judicial overreach.
It sounds like generic conservative columnist lingo to suggest that the justices on the wrong side of this ruling are driven by some disdain for the President or the war effort. But what is one to conclude when Justice Stephen Breyer snipes that "Congress has not given the executive a black check," a taunt gleaned straight from the manual of anti-war Democrats for years?
If we're going to have a political battle, at least it now moves to the halls of Congress, where President Bush will now have to garner enough support to get lawmakers to sign off on a matter that is wholly his business.
Democrats and detainees may be chortling with glee for the moment, but they may soon get a dose of the danger of getting what you wish for. Guantanamo's "guests" may now find themselves in an extended Cuban limbo, eligible for neither a tribunal nor immediate release.
And the President's enemies on Capitol Hill may not welcome another vote-- even closer to election day-- which will provide further evidence that they lack the seriousness to be trusted on the war in the first place.