Court sides with Guantanamo detainees

June 19, 2008 5:24:28 PM PDT
The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a major victory to the terrorism suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In a 5-4 decision, the court said those suspects have the right to challenge their detention in court.

I spoke with a Stanford lawyer who's been working on this case for more than six years.

Barbara Olshansky's court victory in 2004 led to today's Supreme Court decision. After she won her case, the Bush Administration and Congress responded by passing a new law restricting terror suspects' rights. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that law was unconstitutional.

The White House had argued that Guantanamo detainees had no constitutional rights and that military tribunals were adequate to sort out which prisoners should be kept or released.

But Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated "the laws and constitution are designed to survive and remain in force in extraordinary times."

"And that line from Justice Kennedy really is the heart of it," says Stanford law professor Barbara Olshansky.

Olshansky brought the original case that resulted in today's decision. She spoke with me from our sister station in New York.

"For me, it was something that I was afraid we weren't going to see in my lifetime. I was afraid that we had gone really down a dark road and today, the court lit that beacon again down the path of democracy."

In the dissenting opinion Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority had struck down the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.

President Bush told reporters in Rome that he will abide by the court's decision.

"That doesn't mean i have to agree with it," said President Bush.

The President said his administration will study the decision and determine if new legislation is needed to keep the country safe. However, this is the third time in four years the Supreme Court has rebuked the administration on this issue.

And for Olshansky, the third time is the charm

"I feel like I've been floating above the streets of Manhattan today."

There are 270 inmates incarcerated at Guantanamo. Today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters she hopes the Supreme Court Decision will lead to the closing of Guantanamo's detention center.


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