Several Supreme Court justices yesterday questioned whether President Bush has the unbridled authority he claims to detain two U.S. citizens indefinitely as enemy combatants in the war on terrorism, reports the Baltimore Sun. The court heard the cases of Yaser Esam Hamdi, who was seized in Afghanistan, and Jose Padilla, who was arrested at a Chicago airport. Both are American citizens held for more than two years without charges and denied access to lawyers until recently.
Hamdi’s attorney, Frank W. Dunham Jr., told the court: “We have never authorized detention of a citizen in this country without giving him an opportunity to be heard, to say, ‘Hey, I am an innocent person.’ ” But some justices seemed to accept the idea that the president is broadly empowered to protect the country against terrorism and that courtrooms cannot be set up on battlefields to weigh the rights of suspected terrorists. Paul D. Clement, deputy solicitor general, said, “No principle of the law or logic requires the United States to release an individual from detention so that he can rejoin the battle.”
Hamdi, who grew up in Saudi Arabia but was born in Louisiana, was accused of fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. Padilla, who grew up in Chicago and converted to Islam, was accused of plotting to set off a radioactive “dirty bomb.”
Despite the justices’ tough questioning of the government, there is no way to determine how they will rule. Decisions are expected before the court’s summer break.