Sanity prevails in the Hamdan v Rumsfeld Supreme Court ruling.
Well, that is a relief. Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court put in a good word for democracy and the rule of law, ruling that the military commissions in Guantanamo Bay did not qualify as "properly constituted" courts.
The court identified various flaws in the process: excluding the defendant from parts of the trial, using secret evidence, hand-picking the tribunal, making up the rules as you go along, and so forth. In rather strong language, the majority said simply that President Bush did not have the power he thought he had.
The Bush administration tried to reassure the court that the accused would not be convicted on secret evidence if that resulted in a trial that was not "full and fair." But, as the court said, "the government suggests no circumstances in which it would be 'fair' to convict the accused based on evidence he has not seen or heard." Indeed, while most of the 80-page opinion was rather tedious legalese, the court argued rather eloquently that this would be "contrary to the dictates of humanity."
Of course, the three justices on the far right of the court would have held differently. They would have retroactively stripped all our clients of the right to go to court at all; ruled the Geneva Conventions irrelevant to the process; and rubber-stamped the tribunal system.
In the end, I suspect there was a collective sigh of relief from the White House that the lunatic fringe did not prevail. The Bush administration has finally recognized that it must close Guantanamo but - for all that Bush bangs on about the importance of personal responsibility - it wanted someone else to take the blame.
Now, the Supreme Court has volunteered to be a convenient whipping boy. Bush and Blair are equally fond of criticizing liberal judges who are out of touch with the will of the people. (It would be unkind to point out that the opinion was written by a Republican justice appointed by President Ford, and joined by two other Republicans appointed by President Reagan and the current president's father.)
History will describe these military commissions as kangaroo courts, just as British justice Johan Steyn predicted three years ago. But I prefer the label applied by my client, Binyam Mohamed, who was one of just ten prisoners charged in a commission: He referred to it a "con-mission", designed to con the world into thinking that the military was respecting due process.
He was right and, in more moderate terms, the Supreme Court agreed. "The Constitution places its faith in ... democratic means," the justices said. "Our court today simply does the same."
It was a good day for Binyam Mohamed, but a great day for the reputation of the United States.