The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign suspects held at the high security military jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have rights under the American constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.
The Supreme Court handed the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush its third major legal setback since 2004 over its treatment of prisoners who are being held indefinitely and without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
The vote was 5-4, with the court's liberal justices in the majority. Conservative judges, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, wrote dissenting opinions warning of the effect of the ruling at a time of "war with radical Islamists."
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, "The laws and constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."
It was not immediately clear whether this ruling, unlike the first two, would lead to prompt hearings for the detainees, some of whom have been held for more than six years.
Roughly 270 men remain at the prison, classified as enemy combatants and held without charge on what U.S. government officials say is suspicion of terror-related crimes or links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Canadian Omar Khadr, the only remaining detainee from a Western country, is charged with providing material support to terrorism and related crimes in the death of a U.S. medic in Afghanistan in 2001.
It's not clear how many Guantanamo inmates have been formally charged with crimes, but the U.S. has said it intends to put about 80 detainees on trial and release the rest, once countries can be found to take them.
Enemy combatant process legally flawed: court
The Bush administration opened the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hold some of the hundreds of people detained by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies had detained during the invasion of Afghanistan later that year.
The Guantanamo prison has been harshly criticized in the United States and abroad for the detentions themselves and the aggressive interrogations that were conducted there.
Thursday's Supreme Court decision said not only do the detainees have rights under the U.S. constitution, but also the system the administration has put in place to classify them as enemy combatants and review those decisions is inadequate.
The administration had argued at first that the detainees have no rights. But it also contended that the classification and review process was a sufficient substitute for the civilian court hearings that the detainees seek.
The highest U.S. court has twice struck down central contentions by the Bush administration about the need for restrictions on legal rights for detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
In 2006, the court found the Guantanamo military tribunal process unconstitutional, but the U.S. government re-established it by pushing a law through Congress that set up the current trials process.
Two years earlier, the Supreme Court gave Guantanamo detainees the right to use U.S. courts to fight their continuing detention.