I think it is hard to overstate how important the Supreme Court decision was to force George Bush to restore Habeas Corpus to our system of justice. Since September 12, 2001, the phrase “9/11 changes everything” has been the mantra flowing out of Dick Cheney’s mouth into George Bush’s ears and thus into our national policy. In the great dystopian novels like 1984 and Brave New World, there is always an unnamed war going on overseas that justifies the government to spy on its people and curtail their basic freedoms. The citizens have lost track of just where this war is, because it has lasted their lifetime.
The Global War On Terror was becoming just such an excuse for an unending suspension of the constitution. But in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, he spoke truth to power: “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.”
Now of course the matter gets much dicier. It is very clear from the Pew Global Survey that Guantanamo Bay is one of the major impediments to improving our image in the world.
Reports about U.S. prison abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have attracted broad attention in Western Europe and Japan – more attention, in fact, than in the United States. Roughly three-quarters of Americans (76%) say they have heard of the prison abuses, compared with about 90% or more in the four Western European countries and Japan.
Clearly, closing Gitmo would help in our effort to restore Brand America. But we cannot have any illusions of what a disaster this policy has laid at the feet of the next President. Both Obama and McCain have said they will close Guantanamo, though McCain seemed to support Bush against the court yesterday. Many of the prisoners are very dangerous. But as they get access to the courts, much more concrete evidence of their torture will inevitably emerge. Some, for whom we have no evidence will be shipped back to their home countries. But do we do with the Saudi crazies that are in Gitmo? Will the Saudis take them back and try them? Very complicated.