The Bush administration took a serious -- and potentially embarrassing -- hit last week when the Supreme Court essentially ruled that the detainees at Guantanamo have the same basic rights as any other person in the United States -- citizen or not.
This county is founded on the rule of law, that all men are equal and that each has the right to a fair and open trial if charged with a crime.
Because the main enemy in the Global War on Terror isn't a nation, but rather a shadowy movement, the Bush administration has always had difficulty defining these prisoners.
If they are POWs, then they have certain rights under the Geneva conventions, among which is the requirement that they not be tortured -- something this administration has insisted it has the right to do (blackening our reputation around the world).
If they are criminals, which the administration has often called them in describing their crimes against humanity, then they have all the legal rights of any person arrested by United States authorities. That means a right to a speedy trial (many have been held five years without being charged with anything), the right to face your accusers in open court (Bush wants to hold secret trials in which the defense wouldn't even be allowed to see or know about some evidence presented to the court) and the right to invoke habeas corpus, in which a person can seek relief from unlawful detention (the state has to show there is just cause to hold a person pending trial). Habeas corpus has historically been an important instrument for the safeguarding of individual freedom against arbitrary state action and is deeply imbedded in the philosophy and language of the Constitution of the United States.
Those constitutional guarantees have been pretty much trampled on by the Bush administration, which has torn up the Constitution whenever it has suited them.
The Supreme Court brought a halt to some of that last week.
Many of those held in Guantanamo are very bad people. America and the world deserve to see these people brought to justice. But justice means a fair and open trial in which a conviction is supported by the evidence.
For most of the very bad people there, evidence is plentiful.
But, the administration is now admitting, for several hundred of those prisoners, there is no evidence, even of participation in any anti-American activities, and the Supreme Court ruling will force them to let those people go.
Think about that for a minute. For up to five years several hundred people have been imprisoned by the Bush administration with no evidence that they have committed any crime. Some of those, they can't even show fought against the United States or aided those who did.
For political reasons, very few members of Congress want to impeach Bush. But few presidents have ever mangled the Constitution and deserved it as much as he has.
Fortunately, in our country the system eventually works, and the Supreme Court called a halt to this madness. The rule of law is, piece by piece, slowly being restored to America again.