The Return of Law

Roger Cohen at the New York Times nails it:

It’s Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for many things right now, despite the stock market, and first among them is the fact that the next U.S. commander in chief is a constitutional law expert and former law professor.

[The law] defines the United States, for it is a nation of laws. Or was until Bush, in the aftermath of 9/11, unfurled what the late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called “the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.”

The facts speak for themselves. This month, almost seven years after detainees began arriving at Guantánamo Bay on Jan. 11, 2002, a verdict was handed down in the first hearing on the government’s evidence for holding so-called unlawful enemy combatants at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

Yes, this was the first hearing in a habeas corpus case, so long has the legal battle been to get to this point, and so stubborn has the administration been in seeking to keep Guantánamo detainees out of reach of civilian courts.

Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court in Washington ruled that five Algerian men had been unlawfully held at Guantánamo and ordered their release. He said: “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty.”

Of the 770 detainees grabbed here and there and flown to Guantánamo, only 23 have ever been charged with a crime. Of the more than 500 so far released, many traumatized by those “enhanced” techniques, not one has received an apology or compensation for their season in hell.

We’re supposed to be a better country than this.

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