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high court decision on Guantánamo;
New York, June 29, 2006 – The National Council of Churches USA described today’s Supreme Court’s 5-3 ruling preventing the Bush administration from using military tribunals to prosecute prisoners in the Guantánamo Bay detention center as “a reasoned affirmation of what people of faith have been trying to communicate to the White House for years.”
“Any effort to deny the rule of law to accused individuals, no matter how grievous the charges, is a denial of the most fundamental expression of American democratic ideals,” the NCC statement said.
At issue was Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's driver and bodyguard, who is imprisoned at Guantánamo. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said, "The military commission at issue is not expressly authorized by any congressional act." The tribunals, he said, "must be understood to incorporate at least the barest of those trial protections that have been recognized by customary international law."
"In undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, the executive (Bush) is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction," Stevens said.
The NCC noted that well-meaning presidents have historically attempted to bypass the Constitution to protect the nation in wartime, including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. But such actions have not “been upheld by the verdict of history or by the U.S. Constitution.”
The complete text of the NCC statement follows.
The Supreme Court's decision is a reasoned affirmation of what people of faith have been trying to communicate to the White House for years. Any effort to deny the rule of law to accused individuals, no matter how grievous the charges, is a denial of the most fundamental expression of American democratic ideals. It is our conviction that due process is in line with Christian principles and our belief in justice and human dignity and worth.
In our history, well-meaning presidents -- even our most revered presidents -- have unwisely turned their backs on these ideals to protect the nation. President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and allowed suspected subversives to languish in jail without charge. President Franklin Roosevelt signed executive order 9066 creating unconstitutional detention camps for innocent Americans of Japanese ancestry. Neither action has been upheld by the verdict of history or by the U.S. Constitution, and neither will be the Bush administration's unconstitutional decisions in Guantánamo.
Now that the highest court in the land has ruled, we call on the Bush administration to take prompt action to restore the rule of law to Guantánamo and everywhere else it has been undermined in the often dubious justification of fighting terrorism.
As our nation approaches its 230th birthday next Tuesday, it is important for Americans of faith or no faith remember that a country built on the concept of equal treatment before the law does not promote its way of life to others by abandoning it in a moment of crisis.
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