Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed George Bush and John Ashcroft a stinging defeat in their effort to render enemy combatants as non-people not entitled to any legal protections under U.S. law (Justices Affirm Legal Rights of ‘Enemy Combatants’). The justices, by surprisingly lopsided votes considering the essentially right-wing & deferential nature of their interpretation of executive power, said that enemy combatants in U.S. custody ARE entitled to their day in a U.S. court and are entitled to legal representation, all of which the Bush Administration had denied them previously.
While this is a tremendous victory for civil libertarians and those who respect Constitutional law, it is equally important to note the limits of these rulings. They merely state that these individuals are entitled to access to court and their lawyers. They do not provide any indication of how the courts should look on these individuals nor what standard of legal proof the courts should use in determining whether they ARE dangerous people worthy of designation as enemy combatants.
While the World War II Japanese internment is considered possibly the most egregious U.S. violation of civil liberties in the 20th century, at least the Japanese complainants were never denied their day in court. Once they received that day in court however, their legitimate rights continued to be denied on the flimsiest of legal pretexts. So these enemy combatants could still face the prospect of spending their lives behind bars even after a court hears their cases.