In a decision which ought to reassure those on the left who think the court has gone too conservative, the Supreme Court has ruled in the case of Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay cannot be tried by special military tribunals. The decision was based on both provisions of the Universal Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention. The main point of issue being that both documents suggest that specially convened courts cannot be used to try prisoners of war who must instead be offered the same quality of justice as non-combatants, which presumably means a normal trial under a legitimately constituted judiciary with a lawyer and all the trimmings.
This argument had been struck down by a lower appeals court and was reinstated by the Supreme Court in a 5-3 decision with the Chief Justice recusing himself because the previous appeal had been heard in his court. Salim Ahmed Hamdan is a Yemeni who had been Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and driver and who was captured during the invasion of Afghanistan. Dissent from the opinion was strong, with the normally silent Justice Thomas demanding time to make a statement rejecting the reasoning of the majority opinion written by Justice Stephens.
The stumbling block for the efforts to try these prisoners in special courts appears to be the failure of Congress to pass legislation authorizing these courts under the UCMJ when they authorized the invasion of Afghanistan. This oversight could be corrected in hindsight and Republicans in Congress are drafting legislation to authorize special trials. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist commented:
Since this issue so directly impacts our national security, I will pursue the earliest possible action in the United States Senate.
Another option which the administration has not discussed would be returning the prisoners to Afghanistan to stand trial, where the pro-American government would be able to try them legitimately but in a very unsympathetic environment.