Recently, a federal court issued a decision that may be the next Supreme Court case in the War on Terror. The court ruled that terrorists held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan are entitled to the writ of habeas corpus, extending a panoply of rights to these detainees. This ruling could have a stunning impact on this and future wars, and bears out just how wrong last year’s major Supreme Court habeas case was.
Judge John D. Bates is a Bush appointee on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Bates held that terrorist detainees that are held at the Bagram Air Force Base are entitled to habeas corpus, claiming that the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush demands this result.
The writ of habeas corpus is powerful. Where habeas applies, it requires that any person held in confinement must either be promptly given a civilian trial with all the protections that the Bill of Rights gives American citizens, or that the person must be released. Before the Boumediene case, it had never been applied in a wartime context on foreign soil in the history of the United States.
No country extends more protections for individual liberty than the United States. Our nation has amazingly broad protections for free speech, religious liberty and political expression. People have the right to own property, have the means to defend themselves and their families, and be informed by a free press. If the government wants to convict them, they are presumed innocent, entitled to a prompt jury trial with the help of a lawyer, and cannot be tortured or given unreasonable fines.
Yet before last year, the courts always recognized the enormous difference between prosecuting criminals and fighting a war. Habeas corpus applies to American citizens or people on American soil as part of domestic policy. When invoked, it requires the government to apply all of those rights listed above. It’s a civilian process deliberately biased in favor of defendants that is focused on our courts under Article III of the Constitution.
War, on the other hand, is a military matter. It’s part of foreign policy under the president’s commander-in-chief power in Article II of the Constitution. It’s deliberately biased in favor of American power, intended to protect American lives and our national security.