Ruling a 'Big' & 'Stinging' Defeat, Could Prove 'Embarrassing' to Bush

The broadcast network evening newscasts gave as much emphasis Thursday night to the biting dissent as the majority opinion in the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling on behalf of the Guantanamo detainees, but told the story through the prism of the Bush administration getting rebuked by the decision characterized as “historic” and “landmark” -- with ABC's Martha Raddatz ominously warning “it could be very embarrassing for the administration.” CBS avoided any label for the majority while tagging the dissenters as “conservative” and only NBC noted how some of those already released have committed atrocities.

“The Supreme Court, for the third time, has slammed the Bush administration for its handling of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay,” CBS anchor Katie Couric announced. Wyatt Andrews asserted “the ruling essentially tells the Bush administration no more halfway justice at Guantanamo” as he segued to a soundbite from a representative of a left-wing group by relaying how “lawyers for the detainees called it a victory for America's reputation around the world.” Andrews, who applied no liberal labels, said the “ruling was bitterly rebuked by the court's conservatives.”

From Kabul, NBC's Brian Williams teased “a big defeat for the Bush administration,” though he later uniquely portrayed the “landmark ruling” as “victory” for the detainees, before Pete Williams tagged both sides, citing “the court's five more liberal members” and “the four conservative dissenters.” ABC anchor Charles Gibson reported that the court “today handed the Bush administration a stinging defeat.” Jan Crawford Greenburg applied the most accurate labeling, referring to how “moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the decision with the four liberal justices” while “conservative Justice Antonin Scalia read a sharp, almost personal dissent.”

Asked by Gibson how the Bush administration will proceed, Raddatz raised the possibility secrets will be revealed that “could be very embarrassing” for the administration:
It really removes the vail of secrecy. And it could be very embarrassing for the administration. We don't know what these people did. We don't know what they're charged with. We don't know how serious the charges are against many of them.
Transcripts of the Thursday, June 12 CBS, NBC and ABC evening newscast stories on the 5-4 SCOTUS ruling:

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: Now to Washington where the Supreme Court, for the third time, has slammed the Bush administration for its handling of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. Wyatt Andrews reports federal courts could see a flood of detainee cases as a result of the latest high court decision.

WYATT ANDREWS: The ruling essentially tells the Bush administration no more halfway justice at Guantanamo, that the detainees there, according to Justice Anthony Kennedy, “have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus.” That simple statement gives the 270 detainees the right to challenge their detentions, not at a military tribunal, but in front of a U.S. judge.

GITANJALI GUTIERREZ, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: This is an excellent day for the rule of law.

ANDREWS: Lawyers for the detainees called it a victory for America's reputation around the world.

GUTIERREZ: And it's the beginning of restoring what this country has been known for throughout the world as upholding: values of fairness-

ANDREWS: But the 5 to 4 ruling was bitterly rebuked by the court's conservatives, with Justice Antonin Scalia saying that for the first time “the court confers a constitutional right on alien enemies detained abroad in the course of an ongoing war.” Scalia pointedly said the ruling “will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.”

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: It is a dangerous decision.

ANDREWS: Dangerous, says Senator Lindsey Graham, because in the middle of a war, military officers could be dragged into federal court.

GRAHAM: Never in the history of warfare have we allowed enemy prisoners to go to a federal court and sue our own troops to be released.

ANDREWS: So what happens now? At least 200 detainees will likely apply for release here in U.S. District Court in Washington, but it won't happen quickly, and no immediate releases are expected.

One big wild card here is what happens to the 80 trials that the military still wants to hold down in Guantanamo? The trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: that probably will not be impacted, but others, Katie, will almost certainly be reviewed.

NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS, IN KABUL, WITH “HISTORIC RULING” ON SCREEN: Now to a big decision out of Washington today at the U.S. Supreme Court that has a direct connection to the Bush administration's fight against terrorism going on right here. The vast majority of people locked up by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay without trials have been picked up here in Afghanistan or across the border in Pakistan. Today, a landmark ruling from the court that's a victory for them. Our justice correspondent, Pete Williams, is standing by at the Supreme Court tonight with that. Pete, good evening.

PETE WILLIAMS: Brian, this ruling means that 270 or so detainees now get the constitutional right to have their lawyers come before federal judges here in Washington and argue this: You've got the wrong guy. For the first time in history, the Supreme Court ruled that constitutional rights apply even outside the U.S. to foreign citizens held by the American military. Writing for the court's five more liberal members, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, the “Constitution designed to remain in force in extraordinary times,” including the “right to be free from arbitrary and unlawful restraint,” something many of the detainees have been without for as long as six years. And because the ruling is based on the Constitution, Congress cannot take detainee rights away simply by passing a law as it did two years ago.

MICHAEL RATNER, LAWYER FOR DETAINEES: Incredible ruling, can't be overridden by Congress, can't be overridden by the President. So we're really excited that our clients can finally get a day in court.

PETE WILLIAMS: Their lawyers can now put on evidence of why many detainees insist they're wrongly held, turned in, for example, by greedy bounty hunters. But writing for the four conservative dissenters. Justice Antonin Scalia said the rulings “almost certainly will cause more Americans to be killed.” Federal judges, he said, are not qualified to decide who should be held as an enemy combatant and who should be released. Even some detainees set free by the military, he said, have succeeded in carrying out atrocities against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Traveling overseas, President Bush said today's decision ignores national security concerns.

PRESIDENT BUSH: We'll abide by the court's decision. That doesn't mean I have to agree with it.

PETE WILLIAMS: By itself, this decision doesn't free anyone. The detainee lawyers will start their work here in the federal courts in the next few weeks. As for the high-value detainees, Khalid Shaikh Muhammad and the others, this decision could eventually delay their military trials scheduled to start in the fall. Brian?

BRIAN WILLIAMS: All right, Pete Williams at the court for us tonight in Washington.

ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: Next, we turn to the Supreme Court, which today handed the Bush administration a stinging defeat. The justices ruled 5 to 4 that foreign terror suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay prison do have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in court. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the President and the Congress can't switch the Constitution on and off at will. Jan Crawford Greenburg is our legal correspondent, covers the court, is at the court tonight. Jan?

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Charlie, this is one of the most significant wartime rulings in the nation's history and it literally undercuts the entire system the Bush administration and Congress created to imprison and eventually bring to trial these terror suspects. It was a cornerstone in the Bush administration's war on terror, sending hundreds of terror suspects to a U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba under U.S. military control, but outside U.S. courts. Today's ruling throws open the courthouse doors, giving terror suspects a basic constitutional right to challenge their detention in federal courts. They can ask to see classified evidence, call witnesses, and ask a federal judge to set them free. President Bush's reaction was terse.

PRESIDENT BUSH: We'll abide by the court's decision. That doesn't mean I have to agree with it. That's a deeply divided court. And I strongly agree with those who dissented.

GREENBURG: Moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the decision with the four liberal justices. He emphasized that some detainees have been held more than six years without hearings and said that today's war on terror could last forever. Kennedy said: “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled.” He said access to U.S. courts would not endanger national security. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia read a sharp, almost personal dissent. He warned of “disastrous consequences” if federal judges, rather than military officials, have the power to release terror suspects: “It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed,” he said. “The nation will live to regret what the court has done today.” Lawyers for detainees disagree, saying the ruling merely gives them basic rights they should have had a long time ago.

VINCENT WARREN, DETAINEE ATTORNEY: What this decision means is that it's not a get out of jail free card, but simply an opportunity for these men to go before courts and judges to determine whether they are being held illegally or not.

GREENBURG: There are 270 men still in prison at Guantanamo Bay, including the alleged mastermind of September 11th, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Enormous practical questions remain: What impact will today's ruling have on upcoming trials? When will other suspects make their cases in federal court? And will they be permitted to see classified evidence and bring witnesses?

Now lawyers for some of the detainees, this afternoon, already have started filing papers in federal court, arguing they should not be held at Guantanamo. But that process could take months and months, leaving it to the next President and the next administration to resolve. Charlie?

GIBSON: Jan Crawford Greenburg, reporting from the Supreme Court tonight. And reaction to the decision has been swift and passionate. Supporters of the ruling hailing it as an important step in upholding constitutional rights. Opponents denouncing it, as a threat to national security, and perhaps to American lives. Our White House correspondent, Martha Raddatz, is here. Martha, it was a 5 to 4 decision, but sweeping in its scope. Did how sweeping it was catch the administration by surprise?

MARTHA RADDATZ: It certainly did, Charlie. This is a real mess for the Bush administration. They expected, they say, a reversal, but certainly not the scope of this. And they are trying to figure out what happens next. But I can almost guarantee there will not be a completed trial by the end of the Bush administration.

GIBSON: And, Martha, one of the reasons that the Bush administration has been so reluctant -- and the Congress, reluctant about this is because they don't want these trials going on in court and they have to present evidence that they say they don't want to present because it compromises national security. So how do they go forward in this case?

RADDATZ: It really removes the vail of secrecy. And it could be very embarrassing for the administration. We don't know what these people did. We don't know what they're charged with. We don't know how serious the charges are against many of them. As Jan mentioned, there are about 270 detainees. We know only about a fraction of those men. And what they did, we'll soon be finding out.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center