Because I say so.

Oral argument from the court.
March 28 2006 6:49 PM

Because I Say So

The Supreme Court takes the military tribunals out for a spin.

(Continued from Page 2)

"You can't say both," chides Stevens. So this is where Clement claims that Congress could have accidentally suspended the writ, the way you might accidentally drop your eyeglasses into a punchbowl. "Wait a minute," replies Souter, and I think he's angrier than I have ever seen him. "The writ is the writ. … You're saying the writ was suspended by inadvertence!"

Later Breyer will add: "You want to say that these are war crimes. But this is not a war. These are not war crimes. And this is not a war crimes tribunal. If the president can do this, he can set up a commission and go to Toledo and arrest an immigrant and try him." To which Clement's answer is the fail-safe: "This is a war."

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And even as it starts to be clear that he is losing Kennedy—who asks whether Hamdan isn't "uniquely vulnerable" and thus entitled to the theoretical protection of the Geneva Conventions—Clement stands firm in his claim that the Guantanamo detainees are different from regular POWs because, well, they are.

At some point, it must begin to insult the collective intelligence of the court, these tautological arguments that end where they begin: The existing laws do not apply because this is a different kind of war. It's a different kind of war because the president says so. The president gets to say so because he is president.

For today at least, it appeared that the Bush administration would not readily marshal five votes for its core legal proposition: that if you just refuse to offer answers, the questions will go away.