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Supreme Court rejects military tribunals

The high court's 5-to-3 ruling Thursday scuttled US plans for Guantánamo detainees.

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In a landmark decision restricting the president's powers during wartime, the US Supreme Court has dealt the Bush administration a severe blow in its push to prosecute terrorists in military tribunals.

The court ruled 5-to-3 Thursday that Mr. Bush acted outside his authority when he ordered Al Qaeda suspects to stand trial before these specially organized military commissions. The ruling said that the commission process at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, could not proceed without violating US military law and provisions of the Geneva Conventions. "The commission lacks power to proceed," writes Justice John Paul Stevens for the court majority.

President Bush said he would honor the decision in the case called Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, but do it in a way that did not jeopardize the safety of Americans.

"I want to find a way forward," Bush told reporters. "I would like there to be a way to return people from Guantánamo to their home countries, but some of these people need to be tried" in court.

Human-rights organizations praised the ruling as a step forward for the US, while administrtation supporters expressed concern.

"This is a very serious blow for the president," says Andrew McBride, a former federal prosecutor who filed a friend of the court brief in the case. "It takes a very narrow view of the president's authority."

Thomas Wilner, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represents several detainees at Guantánamo, said the ruling shows that presidents must act in accord with other branches of government. "It really reaffirms what courts have said from the beginning of the republic. That at times of crisis, the executive is not exempt from following the law," Mr. Wilner says.

The case sharply split the high court with six separate opinions covering 177 pages.


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