John McCain has publicly called for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center for unlawful combatants, but objected strenuously today to the Supreme Court decision that grants terrorists access to the civil court system. At a townhall meeting in New Jersey this morning, McCain called the decision “one of the worst” in US history, and says it will undermine national security:
John McCain today slammed the US Supreme Court ruling that terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in civilian courts.
At a town hall meeting in Pemberton, N.J., McCain called it “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”
While McCain reminded voters that he has worked to prevent the torture of terrorism suspects, he also argued against giving those rights to enemy combatants who are not US citizens. ….
“There are some bad people down there,” he said, adding that the first obligation of the government is to ensure the nation’s safety. “This decision will harm our ability to do that.”
McCain also warned that the courts will be “flooded” with habeas corpus petitions, delaying the adjudication of the cases.
McCain had wanted to close Gitmo through a process that would have terrorists detained in US military centers and subject to military tribunals. The Boumediene decision accomplished the first objective by default; the entire argument for Gitmo was that it didn’t involve sovereign US territory, and via Eisentrager, the civil courts would have no jurisdiction in these cases. By turning that precedent on its head, the court found that American sovereignty — and therefore the jurisdiction of the court — travels pretty much anywhere where American military forces operate, which makes Gitmo an expensive extension of the Florida Keys.
For those who thought McCain would cheer this decision, it shows that McCain envisioned a much different process than most of those who demanded an end to Gitmo. He thought that Congress and the executive had the authority to structure military tribunals that would give detainees due process but still treat them as unlawful combatants rather than POWs or American residents. The Supreme Court has decided that it makes the rules, even though Boumediene utterly lacks any guiding principles as to how to differentiate enemies of the US engaging in war using terrorism and the average drive-by shooter.
McCain’s longtime friend and political ally, Lindsey Graham, proposed amending the Constitution to make clear to the Supreme Court that they don’t have a role in conducting war. Hopefully, McCain will consider making that one of his causes on the campaign trail.