The Supreme Court has found that the military tribunals set up by the administration to try enemy combatants held at Guantanamo and elsewhere are illegal:
"The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Bush overstepped his authority in ordering military war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The ruling, a rebuke to the administration and its aggressive anti-terror policies, was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who said the proposed trials were illegal under U.S. law and international Geneva conventions."
I have not been able to find a copy of the decision. (If anyone has one, I'd love to see a copy.) [UPDATE: it's here. END UPDATE] However, Marty Lederman seems to have gotten hold of the syllabus, and he argues that this decision is even more significant than the AP story quoted above makes it seem to be:
"More importantly, the Court held that Common Article 3 of Geneva aplies as a matter of treaty obligation to the conflict against Al Qaeda. That is the HUGE part of today's ruling. The commissions are the least of it. This basically resolves the debate about interrogation techniques, because Common Article 3 provides that detained persons "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely," and that "[t]o this end," certain specified acts "are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever"—including "cruel treatment and torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." This standard, not limited to the restrictions of the due process clause, is much more restrictive than even the McCain Amendment. See my further discussion here.
This almost certainly means that the CIA's interrogation regime is unlawful, and indeed, that many techniques the Administation has been using, such as waterboarding and hypothermia (and others) violate the War Crimes Act (because violations of Common Article 3 are deemed war crimes).
If I'm right about this, it's enormously significant."
From the syllabus as quoted by Lederman:
"Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Parts V and VI-D-iv, concluding:
(...) (d) The procedures adopted to try Hamdan also violate the Geneva Conventions. The D. C. Circuit dismissed Hamdan’s challenge in this regard on the grounds, inter alia, that the Conventions are not judicially enforceable and that, in any event, Hamdan is not entitled to their protections. Neither of these grounds is persuasive. Pp. 62-68.
(i) The appeals court relied on a statement in Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U. S. 763, 789, n. 14, suggesting that this Court lacked power even to consider the merits of a Convention argument because the political and military authorities had sole responsibility for observing and enforcing prisoners’ rights under the Convention. However, Eisentrager does not control here because, regardless of the nature of the rights conferred on Hamdan, cf. United States v. Rauscher, 119 U. S. 407, they are indisputably part of the law of war, see Hamdi, 542 U. S., at 520-521, compliance with which is the condition upon which UCMJ Art. 21 authority is granted. Pp. 63-65.
(ii) Alternatively, the appeals court agreed with the Government that the Conventions do not apply because Hamdan was captured during the war with al Qaeda, which is not a Convention signatory, and that conflict is distinct from the war with signatory Afghanistan. The Court need not decide the merits of this argument because there is at least one provision of the Geneva Conventions that applies here even if the relevant conflict is not between signatories. Common Article 3, which appears in all four Conventions, provides that, in a “conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties [ i.e., signatories], each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum,” certain provisions protecting “[p]ersons … placed hors de combat by … detention,” including a prohibition on “the passing of sentences … without previous judgment … by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees … recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.” The D. C. Circuit ruled Common Article 3 inapplicable to Hamdan because the conflict with al Qaeda is international in scope and thus not a “conflict not of an international character. ” That reasoning is erroneous. That the quoted phrase bears its literal meaning and is used here in contradistinction to a conflict between nations is demonstrated by Common Article 2, which limits its own application to any armed conflict between signatories and provides that signatories must abide by all terms of the Conventions even if another party to the conflict is a nonsignatory, so long as the nonsignatory “accepts and applies” those terms. Common Article 3, by contrast, affords some minimal protection, falling short of full protection under the Conventions, to individuals associated with neither a signatory nor even a nonsignatory who are involved in a conflict “in the territory of” a signatory. The latter kind of conflict does not involve a clash between nations (whether signatories or not). Pp. 65-68.
(iii) While Common Article 3 does not define its “regularly constituted court” phrase, other sources define the words to mean an “ordinary military cour[t]” that is “established and organized in accordance with the laws and procedures already in force in a country.” The regular military courts in our system are the courts-martial established by congressional statute. At a minimum, a military commission can be “regularly constituted” only if some practical need explains deviations from court-martial practice. No such need has been demonstrated here. Pp. 69-70.
(iv) Common Article 3’s requirements are general, crafted to accommodate a wide variety of legal systems, but they are requirements nonetheless. The commission convened to try Hamdan does not meet those requirements. P. 72.
(d) Even assuming that Hamden is a dangerous individual who would cause great harm or death to innocent civilians given the opportunity, the Executive nevertheless must comply with the prevailing rule of law in undertaking to try him and subject him to criminal punishment. P. 72.
Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Souter, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Breyer, concluded in Parts V and VI-D-iv:
(...) 2. The phrase “all the guarantees … recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples” in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is not defined, but it must be understood to incorporate at least the barest of the trial protections recognized by customary international law. The procedures adopted to try Hamdan deviate from those governing courts-martial in ways not justified by practical need, and thus fail to afford the requisite guarantees. Moreover, various provisions of Commission Order No. 1 dispense with the principles, which are indisputably part of customary international law, that an accused must, absent disruptive conduct or consent, be present for his trial and must be privy to the evidence against him. Pp. 70-72.
Justice Kennedy, agreeing that Hamdan’s military commission is unauthorized under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U. S. C. §§836 and 821, and the Geneva Conventions, concluded that there is therefore no need to decide whether Common Article 3 of the Conventions requires that the accused have the right to be present at all stages of a criminal trial or to address the validity of the conspiracy charge against Hamdan. Pp. 17-19."
While I Am Not A Lawyer, I agree with Marty Lederman: if this is what they found, then this is extremely good news.