FINALLY. The Supreme Court ruled this morning that the Bush Administration cannot try prisoners at Guantanamo Bay before military commissions because they are not allowed under American law or the Geneva Conventions. Hamdan v. Rumsfeld was decided by a 5-3 majority (Roberts recused himself because he ruled on the appeal before he was appointed to the Supreme Court).
Now. There's no doubt that many of the people being held at Gitmo are Very Bad Guys. Most of them probably deserve to be in prison. At present, it's all but impossible for outsiders to determine if some of those prisoners are being wrongfully held. It's already happened - innocent men were held there and later released.
But the fact that they have committed crimes against humanity or crimes of war or done things that are just plain evil does not mean that they are not entitled to a fair trial with adequate representation. When we take away basic rights before the law, when we use torture as a method of getting information, we are no better than the regimes we fight against. We lose the moral high ground if we don't provide prisoners with the right to a fair trial, to qualified attorneys, and to a just decision as to their guilt or innocence. If they're guilty, those men held in Cuba should be locked up for life. But they are people just like us, and as people endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, they deserve a chance to plead their case.
This decision is a defeat for the Bush Administration. It is a defeat for those who want to turn these United States into a garrison state where anything can be justified in the name of security. It is a defeat for an administration that rejects portions of laws by executive decree rather than constitutional legislative processes. It is a victory for freedom, that elusive ideal that the Bush Administration purports to care so passionately about.