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Land: Ruling will harm president’s ability to protect U.S.

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States Supreme Court’s June 29 invalidation of military commissions to try terrorist suspects will undermine President Bush’s efforts to keep Americans safe, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land says.

In a 5-3 opinion, the high court struck down the tribunals established by Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. In rejecting the presidentially approved panels, the majority ruled Congress had not authorized the military commissions. The justices also said the commissions violated the Geneva Conventions, the international treaties that govern war, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The court’s opinion “weakens presidential powers in a time of war and betrays a serious and perhaps fatal misunderstanding of the nature of the threat we face from radical Islamic jihadism,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The majority is mistakenly locked into a pre-9/11 mind-set which sees the al Qaeda threat as a criminal problem to be dealt with by police and the criminal justice system rather than as the significant military threat that it is. Make no mistake, we are at war with an enemy that loathes with every fiber of its being everything that we stand for as a nation.”

Possibly the most harmful portion of the ruling, Land told Baptist Press, is its “assertion that terrorists, representing no nation and wearing no uniform, are somehow deserving of being accorded the protections of the Geneva Convention covering prisoners of war, protections which exceed those afforded an American citizen arrested for a crime and incarcerated in the local jail. Seldom has a majority of the Supreme Court more vividly illustrated how profoundly they just don’t get it.”

Land said, “At least 15 of the prisoners incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay [Cuba], upon having been released, have been recaptured on the battlefield fighting Americans. This isn’t a catch-and-release bass tournament. This is life-and-death business. The Congress should work with the president to do everything it can to rectify as much of this despicable decision as possible.”

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer invited such action in a concurring opinion. “Nothing prevents the president from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary,” Breyer wrote.

In a move made on the same day the high court released the opinion, Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., introduced legislation giving the president such authority while protecting the due process rights of detainees. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., and Jon Kyl, R.-Ariz., expressed their disapproval of the justices’ opinion in a joint statement and said they would support a bill to assure terrorists could be tried by military tribunals.

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority opinion. Associate justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breyer signed onto Stevens’ decision.

Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito disagreed with the majority. Each of them wrote a separate dissenting opinion.

Chief Justice John Roberts did not participate in the case because he was part of a three-judge panel that upheld the commissions while he was on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

In his dissent, Thomas said the majority’s opinion “openly flouts our well-established duty to respect the executive’s judgment in matters of military operations and foreign affairs.”

The court’s ruling came in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.