FLASHBACK: In 2003, McCain Blasted Administration’s Indefinite Detention Of Detainees

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees have the right to challenge their detention in civilian courts. The Bush administration and its allies quickly criticized the decision:

President Bush: “It was a deeply divided court and I strongly agree with those who dissented. The dissent was based upon those serious concerns about U.S. national security.” [Link]

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): “The United States Supreme Court yesterday rendered a decision which I think is one of the worst decisions in the history of this country. Senator Graham, and Senator Lieberman, and I…made it very clear that these are enemy combatants, these are people who are not citizens. They do not and never have been given the rights that citizens of this country have. [6/13/08]

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “I am deeply disappointed in what I think is a tremendously dangerous and irresponsible ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. … The court has conferred upon civilian judges the right to make military decisions.” [Link]

McCain and Graham’s objections sharply contrast with their positions in 2003, when they wrote a letter to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, urging him to swiftly resolve the status of Guantanamo detainees:

The treatment of the detainees is not an issue. However, a serious concern arises over the disposition of the detainees — a considerable number of whom have been held for two years. […]

Yet, we firmly believe it is now time to make a decision on how the United States will move forward regarding the detainees, and to take that important next step. A serious process must be established in the very near term either to formally treat and process the detainees as war criminals or to return them to their countries for appropriate judicial action.

On Dec. 13, 2003, the New York Times also reported that McCain said, “They may not have any rights under the Geneva Conventions as far as I’m concerned, but they have rights under various human rights declarations. And one of them is the right not to be detained indefinitely.”


Five years after their letter, just “one detainee has received a verdict.” Approximately 270 are still detained there and “about half are considered too dangerous to release, even though the government does not have enough evidence to charge them.”

This Supreme Court ruling will inevitably lead to a “flood of new litigation” challenging the Bush administration’s right to hold these detainees. Detainees will then finally get a decision as to their status — exactly as McCain and Graham requested.

In light of these 2003 remarks, it’s unclear why McCain considers this Supreme Court ruling the “worst decision in history,” except for the fact that it isn’t what the Bush administration wanted.

Cross-posted at the Wonk Room.