This is good news for all of us, not just those out to harm the US as some commentators claim. The decision essentially over turns key parts of the Military Commissions act of 2006, which said in part:
Petitioners are aliens detained at Guantanamo after being captured in Afghanistan or elsewhere abroad and designated enemy combatants by CSRTs. Denying membership in the al Qaeda terrorist network that carried out the September 11 attacks and the Tali-ban regime that supported al Qaeda, each petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus in the District Court, which ordered the cases dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because Guantanamo is outside sovereign U. S. territory. The D. C. Circuit affirmed, but this Court reversed,holding that 28 U. S. C. §2241 extended statutory habeas jurisdiction to Guantanamo.
(e)(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.
What sometimes gets lost with the phrase Habeas Corpus and assorted Latin terms is what this actually means. Essentially the right of Habeas Corpus means that someone who is arrested gets to go before a judge to challenge that arrest.
Without that right, the President can imprison anyone forever -- not trial, no testimony, no evidence. It's entirely at the executive's whim.
Now many will say that wasn't true. In fact the act above says it only applies to an enemy combatant.
The problem is there was no review.
So say for example, an natural born US citizen says something the President doesn't like. Maybe that person tells jokes on TV or perhaps just blogs occasionally about politics. Or maybe they painted their house an offensive color. It doesn't really matter what they did.
If the President got upset, he could have declared that person a non-citizen enemy combatant and locked them up in Guantanamo. Before this new ruling, that person would be there until the administration changed it's mind.
Some might say this is impossible because the person clearly is not an enemy combatant and is absolutely a US citizen. They can't be detained.
The problem is that without Habeas Corpus, there is no way for that citizen to make that argument. They can't go to court to challenge that detention. They are detained because the President said so and there is no way to object to that. Without Habeas Corpus there is no way to challenge an error by the administration or to challenge wrong doing by the administration.
This is why the ruling was so critical. Independent judicial review is essential to the survival of our country. The long history of separation of powers is what keeps us from turning into Zimbabwe. Our President shouldn't be allowed to arbitrarily detain anyone he chooses without independent review.
I'm not saying that President Bush used this power in an aritrary way like the examples is used above. What is terribly frightening is that he could have. He could have thrown Scott McClellan, Cindy Sheehan, Nancy Pelosi, Al Franken, or anyone else in prison with no judicial review.
That is a a power no President should ever have.