Troubling tribunal

By Gina Holland The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court justices appeared troubled yesterday by President Bush’s plans to hold war-crimes trials for foreigners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

And several seemed outraged by the government’s claim that a new law had stripped the high court of authority to hear a case brought by Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who once worked as a driver for Osama bin Laden.

Hamdan has spent nearly four years in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo, and the Supreme Court has been asked to decide if he can be put on trial with fewer legal protections before a type of military tribunal last used in the World War II-era.

The appeal could set the stage for a landmark ruling, and the courtroom atmosphere was tense.

“The use of military commissions to try enemy combatants has been part and parcel of the war power for 200 years,” Solicitor General Paul Clement said.

Two years ago the Supreme Court ruled that “a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”

Hamdan’s lawyer, Neal Katyal, told justices that the Bush administration is seeking a “blank check” to do what it wants with foreigners held at Guantanamo Bay.

The U.S. prison has been a flash point for international criticism because hundreds of people suspected of ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban – including some teenagers – have been swept up by the U.S. military and secretly shipped there since 2002.