George Bush might not know it, but yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to declare the military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay illegal is good news for the US. It is not, however, good news for the Administration, but as many know and the Right is confused about, these are two very different things.
The decision forces the Bush administration to charge the prisoners either through civilian or military courts and it urges them to treat the prisoners as prisoners of war rather than “illegal combatants”, as they have been declared. POW status allows the US to incarcerate the prisoners until the end of the conflict, however it mandates that they be treated well while in detention and that they be released without penalty at the end of the war.
This is good news because it is a declaration to the world that the current administration has stepped too far and that there are some checks in the system that can “reign it in”. In the long run, the war against terrorism (if it is real) will only be won by demonstrating that the governance structures in the West are better than tyrannical theocracies anywhere. The judgement might be read as a defeat by Administration officials, and Bush sure does seem glum about it, but it is a political salvo over the bow of extreme groups that wish to attack the West.
The dissenting opinion unfortunately shows that some of the judiciary have partaken of the Bush Freedom Loaf (TM):
“this court [that] would hold that conspiracy to massacre innocent civilians does not violate the laws of war. This determination is unsustainable… We are not engaged in a traditional battle with a nation state, but with a worldwide, hydra-headed enemy, who lurks in the shadows conspiring to reproduce the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001.”
To be existential, the difference between massacring innocent civilians intentionally and launching an attack against a populated area that will produce large numbers of known civilian casualties (like say, Falujah) is slim or nil. And I won’t speak of a nation that will apply sanctions and embargoes on another nation knowing full well that it will result in the slow death of civilians.