A Victory for the Rule of Law

The Supreme Court’s decision striking down the military tribunals set up to try the detainees being held in Guantánamo Bay is far more than a narrow ruling on the issue of military courts. It is an important and welcome reaffirmation that even in times of war, the law is what the Constitution, the statute books and the Geneva Conventions say it is — not what the president wants it to be.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni being held in Guantánamo, has been charged with conspiring to help Al Qaeda. The Bush administration has contended that he and the other prisoners there are not covered either by Congressional laws governing military trials or by the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners of war. Instead, Mr. Hamdan was put on trial before a military tribunal where defendants can be excluded from the proceedings and convicted based on evidence kept secret from them and their lawyers. Prosecutors can also rely on hearsay, coerced testimony and unsworn statements.

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