Supreme Court ruling reaffirms democracy

Despite repeated suggestions by one persistent off-topic commenter yesterday, I actually was pleased by the US Supreme Court’s decision, in the case of Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, rejecting President Bush’s authority to set up special tribunals to try suspected members of al-Qaeda.

Brushing aside administration pleas not to second-guess the commander in chief during wartime, a five-justice majority ruled that the commissions, which were outlined by Bush in a military order on Nov. 13, 2001, were neither authorized by federal law nor required by military necessity, and ran afoul of the Geneva Conventions.

As a result, no military commission can try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the former aide to Osama bin Laden whose case was before the justices, or anyone else, unless the president does one of two things he has resisted doing for more than four years: operate the commissions by the rules of regular military courts-martial, or ask Congress for specific permission to proceed differently.

I’ve never been comfortable with Bush’s implicit belief that because he is the President and the US is at war, the normal separation-of-powers rules are therefore optional. In fact, because I support the general aims of the war, I’ve probably cut him more slack than he deserves. I’m glad that the Supreme Court has drawn the line in a way even Bush can’t ignore.

Perhaps most satisfying to me is that the highest court in the United States can decide a case entitled “Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Petitioner v. Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, et al” in favor of the petitioner and against the secretary of defense. You don’t have to be an admirer of Hamdan or his cause (I hope) to believe that says something good about American democracy.

The outcome of this case is precisely the sort of thing the Bush administration should be proclaiming to the world in its efforts to counter the devastating effects of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo on America’s image.

What are the chances of that?