Today's Papers

Bench Slap

Everybody leads with the Supreme Court’s 5-to-3 smackdown to the White House, which declared the Gitmo tribunals illegal and crushed the administration’s super-broad interpretation of presidential power.

After first trashing the administration’s stance that the justices don’t even have the right to even to hear Gitmo detainee cases, the court ruled that the administration never had authority to create tribunals and didn’t set up fair ones anyway.

The administration’s now-moot argument was that the White House can do as it pleases when it comes to national security, and that it had Congress’s implicit authorization for the tribunals. The White House has used the same logic for the warrantless snooping and other cases. Which is why, as the New York Timesputs it, court’s the decision was a “historic event, a defining moment in the ever-shifting balance of power.”

The ruling “dismissed the notion that the president alone can determine how to defend the country,” says the Washington Post’sfront-page analysis. The ruling “echoed not simply as matter of law but as a rebuke of a governing philosophy.”

“What this decision says is, ‘No, Mr. President, you can be bound by treaties and statutes,’ ” said one former Reagan administration lawyer. “If you need to have these changed, you can go to Congress.”

Justice Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion, agreed that detainees can be held as long as “hostilities” continue. But he said if detainees are going to face trial, there’s already an avenue for that. It’s called a court-martial. And the government needs to follow it or get Congress to authorize something else with similar protections.

Of the 450 detainees at Gitmo only 10 have been charged with any crimes. And while the papers focus on Gitmo, no detainees have been sent there for nearly two years. Instead, there are hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaida suspects now being held in Afghanistan and an unknown number being held at secret prisons … somewhere.

But the ruling could affect far more than just those 10 slated for trial. That’s because Stevens said all detainees—including terror suspects—are covered by a provision of the Geneva Conventions. It not only protects them from unfair tribunals, but the Geneva clause cited by Stevens bans “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.”That is far more protection than given by the McCain amendment. What the court seems to have concluded is that some of the government’s favorite interrogation tactics—including, say, waterboarding used in secret CIA prisons—are illegal.

Only the Los Angeles Times really grasps the significance of that Geneva angle, giving it Page One play. “The opinion seems to provide strong support for the position that even interrogation of terrorists must comply apply with the Geneva conventions,” an “administration lawyer” told the paper. Also unlike the other papers, only the LAT’s headline highlights the wider reach of the ruling.


Compare that to the WP’s myopic take: “HIGH COURT REJECTS DETAINEE TRIBUNALS.”

One final distinction: Despite papers all nodding in agreement about how “historic” the decision was, only the LAT wisely decides it’s Banner Worthy

Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito all dissented, with the first two reading their dissents from the bench, “a demonstration of their strong disapproval.” Justice Roberts had to sit out the vote because he ruled for the president’s position back before his promotion.

The White House suggested it will go to Congress to get the tribunals approved in one way or the other way. Of course, the other option is just to go slow and not push for any tribunals since the detainees can still be held indefinitely without them. UPI also quotes some anonymous administration officials talking tough and saying they just might get Congress to strip al-Qaida suspects of those pesky Geneva protections.

Israel is so far holding off on amajor thrust into Gaza. A “senior Israeli military official” told the Post there are signs that Hamas’ hard-line exile leader could be “softening his position.” Israeli still did send a message yesterday, destroying the Palestinian Interior Ministry HQ in Gaza City.

The NYT fronts an interesting piece saying Israel’s arrest of about 60 Hamas politicians isn’t primarily about the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier. Israel wants Hamas crushed, that one Israeli analyst said, is what the “Israeli cabinet decided upon in its first meeting after Hamas took power.”

Buried in the B section, the Wall Street Journal says police chiefs from N.Y., D.C., and elsewhere are irked that the counterterrorism info they get from the feds is, as the Journal puts it “confusing, late and little better than what’s on television news channels.” An internal government report recently concluded that users of the feds’ snazzy new system for sharing counterterrorism info—built for about $300 million—”are confused and frustrated, without clear guidance on [the network’s] role or how to use the system.”

The Journal and NYT front the Fed hiking up interest rates again but for the first time since it starting inching up rates keeping mum about the likelihood of another increase. In a big thank you, the Dow jumped 2 percent.

The NYT goes inside with a particularly depressing dispatch from Iraq where at least 30 people were reported killed. There were two running battles between Shiite militia—apparently supported by GIs—and Sunnis. The prefight scene from downtown Baquba:

Shiite militiamen had distributed fliers in the morning warning Sunni store owners to keep their shops closed or face death, said [a shopkeeper]. Sunni Arab guerrillas then put out fliers telling the store owners to open their shops or risk death.