Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Courts Rebuke Bush for Trampling the Constitution


Thursday, December 18, brought some good news for those among us who thought the judicial branch of government was asleep. An independent judiciary is alive and well in two federal circuits–the Second Circuit (New York) and the Ninth Circuit (California). Both appeals courts rejected the Bush administration’s claims that President Bush has unlimited power to trample the civil rights of Americans and prisoners in its control under the guise of fighting a global war on “terror.”

The Second Circuit ruled in the case of Jose Padilla that President Bush wrongly ordered his detention as an enemy combatant. The opinion found that there was no legal basis for the presidential act; in fact, it found law to the contrary, the Non-Detention Act (18 U.S. Code, Sec. 4001 (1), that prohibits the military from detaining an American citizen without an Act of Congress. The law, enacted in 1971, repealed the 1950 Emergency Detentions Act, that empowered the Attorney General to detain, during an invasion, insurgency, or declared war, individuals whom the Attorney General thinks might commit sabotage (sounds a little like the Patriot Act, doesn’t it?). As the court notes in its opinion, every Senator who voted for the Non-Detention Act did so because of the disgraceful internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.

The Court further found that Bush overstepped the Joint Resolution to wage war against terrorism, passed overwhelmingly by the Congress shortly after September 11. The government’s attorneys argued that the resolution gave the President the power to detain persons in order to prevent future attacks of terrorism. The Court said that the plain language of the resolution did no such thing. It authorized action only against persons, states, or organizations that planned or participated in the September 11 attacks “in order to prevent future attacks.” The judges ruled that this Joint Resolution in no way abrogates the Non-Detention Act.

Having found that there was no legal basis for Bush’s order, the court gave Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has control over Padilla, 30 days to release him. In the interim, the court noted, federal prosecutors could again detain him as a material witness (the way he originally came to the attention of the court, as federal prosecutors in New York wanted to question him about a plot to detonate a “dirty” bomb), or charge him with a criminal offense and have him indicted in federal court.

The government may ask a full panel (“en banc”) of the Second Circuit judges to rehear the case, a motion the court would likely grant given the gravity and unusual nature of the case. Depending on the outcome of such a review, either Padilla or the government could appeal the results to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling is a great victory for Padilla’s court-appointed lawyer, Donna Newman, who valiantly fought for Padilla for the 18 months after she lost contact with him. Judge Michael B. Mukasey had overruled her motion that he be released and not held as a material witness, but Mukasey ordered that Padilla had the right to counsel. The government would have none of that. Lawyers would interfere with their questioning of the “witness.” Rather than play by the rules and allow him access to his lawyer, the government appealed to some higher up (Ashcroft? Rumsfeld? Bush?) to name Padilla an “enemy combatant.” When Bush signed the order, the Pentagon sent officials to remove Padilla from the New York jail where he was being housed and incarcerate him in a navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Holding Padilla as a military prisoner was the basis of Newman’s petition for habeas corpus, an ancient form of legal action that challenges the basis of one’s detention by the government.

Taking Padilla (along with the other American enemy combatant, Yasir Hamdi) to Charleston revealed another plan, as well–that any protestations from pesky lawyers would be heard by the conservative Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Second Circuit brushed aside this effort, finding that it had jurisdiction over Rumsfeld in this habeas corpus petition because Rumsfeld directed Padilla’s removal from New York.

Out on the West coast, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did not follow the lead of their brethren on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The D.C. court had ruled that Guantanamo prisoners have no right to ask a court to review their detention orders. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the prisoners appeal from the D.C. court’s ruling solely to determine if federal courts can entertain the claim of prisoners’ of the U.S. in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to challenge their petitions with a writ of habeas corpus.

The disingenuous protestations of the government notwithstanding (it argues that Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is part of the sovereign territory of Cuba, even though the lease with the Cuban government gives the U.S. sole civil and criminal jurisdiction over people and acts taking place within its 40-square-mile borders), the Ninth Circuit judges reasoned, “We simply cannot accept the government’s position that the executive branch possesses the unchecked authority to imprison indefinitely any persons, foreign citizens included . . . without permitting such prisoners recourse of any kind to any judicial forum,” said the decision.

If the government files an appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, the Supreme Court will likely consolidate the cases and hear argument on both in the Spring of 2004.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. She can be reached at:


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government: War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Comfortably Dumb
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Michael Munk
Getting Away With Terrorism in Oregon
T.J. Coles
Confronting China: an Interview with John Pilger
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Chris Zinda
The Bundy Acquittal: Tazing of #oregonstandoff
Norman Pollack
America at the Crossroads: Abrogation of Democracy
Bill Quigley
Six Gulf Protectors Arrested Challenging Gulf Oil Drilling
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Ira Helfand
Nukes and the UN: a Historic Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Sam Albert
Kids on Their Own in Calais: the Tip of an Iceberg-Cold World
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
Uri Avnery
The Israeli Trumpess
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Dave Reilly
Complete the Sentence: an Exploration of Orin Langelle’s “If Voting Changed Things…”
Jonathan Woodrow Martin
When Nobody Returns: Palestinians Show They are People, Too
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Simon Jones
The Human Lacunae in Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake”
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
Charles R. Larson
Review: Brit Bennett’s “The Mothers”
David Yearsley
Bach on the Election