Today's Papers

Third Time’s the Charm?

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox all lead with the Supreme Court ruling that prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right to challenge their detentions before a civilian judge. The LAT, NYT, and WSJ point out that the 5-4 decision marked the third time that the Supreme Court has rejected the Bush administration’s handling of foreign prisoners at the base in Cuba. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that “few exercises of judicial power are as legitimate or as necessary” as the basic constitutional right to appear before a judge, and the majority rejected the view that American courts have no jurisdiction over Guantanamo. The WP notes that the majority of justices are “clearly impatient that some prisoners have been held for six years without a hearing.”

USA Todayfronts the Supreme Court ruling but goes across the top of Page One with testimonies from some of the 93 Boy Scouts who had gathered in western Iowa for a week of leadership training when a tornado struck their camp on Wednesday. Four Scouts died, and dozens of people were badly injured by the tornado that seemed to come from nowhere. After the tornado passed, the scouts rushed to assist the injured before help arrived. “There were some real heroes at this Scout camp,” Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said.

Everyone agrees that yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling was an important victory for detainees, but the decision still leaves several important questions unanswered, “making it likely that the controversy will continue into the next presidential administration,” says the LAT. Notably, the justices didn’t say how much evidence the government has to present in order to justify a continued detention in Guantanamo, how classified evidence should be handled, or even whether enemy combatants can be held for as long as the government thinks is necessary. Ultimately though, the ruling will allow detainees “to challenge their detentions before civilian judges, potentially forcing the government to present evidence against them and giving them the chance to call their own witnesses,” explains the Post.

In a dramatic dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the decision will bring about “disastrous consequences” and “will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” He went on to write that “the nation will live to regret what the court has done today.” Chief Justice John Roberts accused the majority of “overreaching” in a decision that left the high court vulnerable to “charges of judicial activism.” For his part, President Bush made it clear he’s not happy with the ruling. “We’ll abide by the court’s decision,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.” (“Six years of no trials, in the eyes of the dissenters, is more than justifiable in the hopes of dozens more years of no trials,” writes Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick. “And it’s precisely that sense of time passing without consequence that so infuriates the majority.”)

In front-page analyses, the WP, LAT, and NYT note that yesterday’s Supreme Court decision undercut the main rationale behind holding detainees at Guantanamo Bay, where the Bush administration was once convinced American courts couldn’t reach. There now “appears to be little legal reason to keep it open,” says the LAT. But the NYT notes that the decision didn’t “change some realities that have long made it easier to say that the Guantánamo detention center should be closed than to figure out how.” Practically speaking, attorneys for most of the 270 detainees in Guantanamo are likely to inundate the courts with petitions that will force the government to present evidence justifying their detention. The difficulty of defending so many cases at once is likely to step up efforts to return many of the detainees who are considered less dangerous back to their home countries. The Post notes that even some Republicans agree the White House has only itself to blame for its current predicament after failing to come up with a detention policy that dealt with the concerns of those who have expressed interest in the legal rights of detainees.

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain have both called for closing the detention center in Guantamo but disagreed on yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. Obama praised the decision, calling it an “important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law.” McCain said he’s concerned about granting too many rights to the detainees, saying that “these are unlawful combatants, they are not American citizens,” but he also emphasized that the Supreme Court has spoken and “we need to move forward.”

In other news, the WP fronts a look at how earmarks appear to be making a comeback on Capitol Hill. Of course, earmarks never really went away, but lawmakers did vow to cut down on their use after the funding of pet projects came under fire from critics who see it as another way that members of Congress use their influence to raise campaign contributions. The number of earmarks quickly dropped last year, but now lawmakers are packing the Pentagon authorization budget with a variety of earmarks. In the House’s bill, earmarks soared 29 percent to $9.9 billion, and the Senate has also seen an increase. “Both parties talk a good game on cutting earmarks, but at first opportunity, the House larded up,” said the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, “This is just another broken promise.”

The papers report that authorities in Zimbabwe detained the opposition presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai twice yesterday, disrupting a day that was supposed to be filled with campaign events two weeks before the presidential runoff election. In addition, the opposition party’s No. 2 official was arrested and will be charged with treason, which could carry the death penalty.

In a Page One dispatch from Burma, the LAT’s unnamed reporter describes how he had to rely on the help of boatmen who risked arrest in order to get a fuller picture of the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. The reporter had to hide in the “cramped space beneath the top deck” of the boats in order to avoid detection. In the remote villages hardest hit by the cyclone, government authorities were usually nowhere in sight, but the reporter describes several close calls. “Over the last 16 years, I have reported on famine, massive earthquakes and a tsunami,” writes the reporter. “Cyclone Nargis is the first natural disaster that required working undercover to write about the hungry, sick and homeless.”

All the editorial boards weigh in on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision and mostly praise the ruling. The one exception is the WSJ, which takes up Scalia’s message: “We can say with confident horror that more Americans are likely to die as a result” of the decision. USAT recognizes that Americans may immediately think “the prisoners are getting better treatment than they deserve” and “perhaps they are. But the ruling also sends a powerful message about U.S. justice.” The LAT says it’s time for the Bush administration to “enlist Congress’ cooperation in improving the flawed Military Commissions Act and cooperate in expedited judicial hearings for inmates.” The WP agrees that “sooner or later, lawmakers must fix this mess” and emphasizes that it’s “time that Congress absorb the lesson that the Supreme Court has repeatedly imparted: The war on terrorism cannot invalidate the rule of law.” The NYT points out that the divided decision is “a reminder that the composition of the court could depend on the outcome of this year’s presidential election.”